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Posted on Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 9:53 a.m.

Doorknobs: At Camp Take Notice, campers long for what we take for granted

By Megan Flood


Photo courtesy of Joseph Gill and Megan Flood

When you’re first introduced to Joseph Gill, you immediately notice his perfectly gelled hair. He frequently wears blue jeans and his favorite Red Wings T-shirt.

Joe, 43, owned his own business for 20 years, but business declined, and he experienced bankruptcy as a result of the recession. Easy-going and likeable, he is now employed at a local business in Ann Arbor.

What is not apparent, however, is that for the past six months he has become one of the homeless in our community and lives in Camp Take Notice, a tent community in Ann Arbor.

As an active volunteer for homeless causes over the past six years, I wanted to focus my University of Michigan School of Art & Design senior thesis on the “new homelessness.” Since the onset of the recession, I have witnessed the issue of homelessness emerge as a social crisis in our country, one having detrimental effects on millions of Americans. A homeless person today may have been your next-door-neighbor, who is now without a job and without a home.

My journey began in October 2009, when I reached out to Camp Take Notice board members, who are volunteers assisting the homeless campers. The members excitedly welcomed me to the weekly Monday night meetings at the Ann Arbor District Library. Halfway through my first meeting, I realized a few board members were representatives from the camp. One couldn’t detect their homeless plight from appearance; it was only through conversation that I realized a few members at the meeting would be sleeping in the frigid cold that night.

The board provided the meeting agenda and rules of the camp. No drinking. No drugs. No stealing. No fighting. If you break the rules, you are asked to leave.


Photo courtesy of Joseph Gill and Megan Flood

Board members invited me to participate in Wednesday night meetings at Camp Take Notice. This was my first introduction to the 20 or so homeless campers. Surrounded by canned food and blankets, campers crowd together in the freezing communal tent to discuss concerns. I introduced myself as an Art & Design student and was immediately showered with questions. “What medium do you work in?” “What programs are you using for graphic design?” “Is that an SLR digital camera?”

These were not the type of questions I expected. The campers were well-spoken, smart, compassionate and motivated.

Through photo documentation and recording of several Camp Take Notice meetings, I learned about the people inside the tents.

Especially Joe.

After many conversations with Joe, he agreed to collaborate on an art project. I gave him a disposable camera and asked him to photograph his daily activities. Who better to capture the difficulties of homelessness than one living in Camp Take Notice? I transformed his photographs into black and white images, layering his handwritten captions on the photo.

After developing Joe’s compelling images, I gave him another camera and asked him to continue. Shortly thereafter, he sent me a startling text message: “Major catastrophe. Snow from last night collapsed all of our tents.” The camera allowed him to document this devastation.

The saddest moments during our interviews occurred when I asked him what he misses most. Joe shared that in addition to cooking over a hot stove and watching the Discovery Channel, what he misses most is doorknobs.


“You don’t appreciate doorknobs until you don’t have one,” Joe explained. “It’s just the simple little things, living inside the creature comforts of a home that you don’t really realize that you appreciate until you live outside. Having a doorknob means you have security. You have security and comfort in knowing you have a roof over your head.” 

Such objects we take for granted are what Joe and his fellow campers long for most. The tents provide but a temporary solution until the homeless can get back on their feet. 

But even this temporary solution is being threatened, as the Michigan Department of Transportation has directed that the homeless camp be disbanded. 

Not long ago, Joe called to share some great news. After six months of homelessness, he had finally saved enough money from his new job to rent an apartment. 

But he is just one. Many others will remain in the cold.

What can we do to help? I asked Joe this question back in December. His answer was that people should go beyond donating money or protesting for political solutions to the plight of homelessness. 

His answer was simple: “Just show some compassion for your fellow human being.”

Megan Flood is a senior at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design. Her work with Camp Take Notice can be seen on her blog, or on April 17, during the senior show for art and design students. To learn more about Camp Take Notice, visit



Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 2:23 p.m.

Hi all. To begin, I am the "vet" being discussed, so I believe my opinions and input are pertinent. For those of you who are concerned about this situation, thank you. Committees, boards, and discussions make people feel good about themselves but do little to nothing in the form of action to solution (that's called politics). Camp Take Notice could not function or provide aid to those who need it without the actions of the individuals and community organizations actually involved in this plight, not talking about it. There are some misconceptions that have been voiced: cinnabar7071- 'permanent' pertains to the camp itself 9the facilities), not the residents. CTN is not intended to be permanent housing. It is a temporary emergency location for someone to escape the elements and find necessary resources in order to move on to a more stable and independent future. Only the camp itself is meant to be a permanent option to a temporary situation. HotSam- Your statistics about the VA are impressive. Do you have any for 2010? Citing stats from 2004 and 2005 don't mean much in current times. Bush and CLINTON? Have you noticed our current president is Obama, and the year is 2010? I'm curious, are you a veteran? Have you tried to use the CURRENT VA system? Severely outdated statistics mean nothing to me while I'm sitting in the VA waiting room HOPING to receive the assistance I EARNED. Jackietreehorn- Where to begin. Ignorance is bliss. If you don't want to read about Camp Take Notice anymore, then don't. You're welcome to visit someone else's discussion. The drama doesn't solve problems. Do you understand what 'the bottom' is that people start from. I've had people show up in February (cold!) without a coat because they lost everything, without food for days, and without hope. 'The bottom' is a place I believe you know nothing about, and I sincerely hope you never do. However, should you ever find it, I have a coat for you, a hot meal, and all the hope I can give. A min. wage job is better than none. Have you interviewed when you haven't been able to shower for a week or two? There are no washer/dryer hookups on the trees for clean clothes. There are more expenses to an apartment than 400 rent. Electricity, gas, food, transportation (1.25 each way each day), family/dependents, communication (telephone), and much more. Does mommy and daddy pay your bills? I understand your opinions, and you are certainly welcome to have and express them. But please, join reality first. This crisis is here now, and it will not 'go away' through ignorance or complaining. How many people out there have donated time or money to Haiti or any other foreign cause, yet turn up your nose to the fellow homeless American (neighbor). Our country gives MILLIONS in foreign aid, yet kicks it's own citizens when they're down. Why should we help each other (foreign and domestic)? If you can't answer that question, then stop reading this discussion and pick up a book call the Bible. God bless and Semper Fi!!!


Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 3:21 p.m.

Loka, she had said 400 dollar apartment, but at any rate I was speaking on all rentals when I added that into parenthesis, and you can be asked for first and last month's rent on top of a security deposit. First and last months rent would be applied as rent, a security deposit is for the landlord to hold until the end of the lease in case the tenant skips out on rent or trashes the apartment more than normal wear and tear. I did not say that everyone pays 2k to move into an apartment; I did say that paying over 1k is the norm. My point remains the same: Someone living on minimum wage cannot easily save up that much money, especially quick enough to find an apartment in an emergency. A point to Jackietreehorn that I forgot: Most minimum wage jobs are part time, not full time like you calculated in your math.


Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 2:22 p.m.

"Also Jackietreehorn, you're forgetting a security deposit typically well over a thousand dollars (and often reaching over two thousand dollars) to get into an apartment ANYWHERE around Ypsi or Ann Arbor" 2K for a 500 pad in ypsi? What is that, first, last, second to last, second to first month's rent?


Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 11:47 a.m.

Hot Sam, assuming your numbers are correct, there is still a lot unaccounted for. The VA's entire budget does not go directly to vet's. It is used for a great number of things, and I'd be interested to see what the "discretionary" portion covers. It's a great thing that the budget was increased, don't get me wrong, but I don't believe the increase was seen in the pockets of the vets. Keep in mind that through the Bush Administration years and currently, we have a growing number of veterans who are applying for benefits as they return from their service overseas. With a much larger group now needing benefits from the VA, the budget would need to be increased to cover this. I believe with the increase in the budget compared to the increase in veterans, it evens out.

Hot Sam

Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 7:57 a.m.

You can say a lot of things about Bush, but to say he didn't spend the money, whether it be veterans benefits, education, or whatever, it simply is not true... Funding for Veterans up 27%, But Democrats Call It A Cut February 18, 2004 Money for Veterans goes up faster under Bush than under Clinton, yet Kerry accuses Bush of an unpatriotic breach of faith. Summary In the Feb. 15 Democratic debate, Kerry suggested that Bush was being unpatriotic: Hes cut the VA (Veterans Administration) budget and not kept faith with veterans across this country. And one of the first definitions of patriotism is keeping faith with those who wore the uniform of our country. It is true that Bush is not seeking as big an increase for next year as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs wanted. It is also true that the administration has tried to slow the growth of spending for veterans by not giving new benefits to some middle-income vets. Yet even so, funding for veterans is going up twice as fast under Bush as it did under Clinton. And the number of veterans getting health benefits is going up 25% under Bush's budgets. That's hardly a cut. Analysis Funding for veterans benefits has accelerated in the Bush administration, as seen in the following table. Fiscal years ending Sept. 30 Source: US Budget: Table 5.2 - Budget Authority by Agency In Bushs first three years funding for the Veterans Administration increased 27%. And if Bush's 2005 budget is approved, funding for his full four-year term will amount to an increase of 37.6%. In the eight years of the Clinton administration the increase was 31.7% Those figures include mandatory spending for such things as payments to veterans for service-connected disabilities, over which Congress and presidents have little control. But Bush has increased the discretionary portion of veterans funding even more than the mandatory portion has increased. Discretionary funding under Bush is up 30.2%.


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 4:02 p.m.

Short history lesson...the republicans under Engler administration dismantled the state run mental health housing and treatment in Michigan, Bush Jr. started wars while cutting Vet's there is about 60% of the camps homeless...are you all happy with the savings on your tax dollar now? Probably some of you are and to those I hope you are never in the situation where you need this kind of help....even though you deserve to "reap what you have sown"!


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 10:48 a.m.

It's not always people refuse to work. We've camper who is double degree holder, but coming from other country because of political persecution. Her son is computer technician. The issue is "They don't have legal status to work". We've camper who is very smart. He was a paramedic, did teach at U of M, very intelligent. However, his mental illness (when the main episode comes to attack) makes him unable to hold onto a job. Could we show some sympathy? We've camper who's a veteran, having been physically abused by his ex-wife. Do you know that in our society, not so many facility can offer enough help to such victim? He even lost his daughter's custody because the court usually gives the living place back to mom and child. Do you know that we've marvelous artists? Their art works amaze you. However, people need luck in life to get the feet on the ground. Just as I said before, in every community, we can't find all saints or all evils. Homeless community is just like our general community. Should we blame them? Quite many homeless friends are from families of multiple parent's marriages or even from a homeless family. George Bush could become American President is just simply he was put in a strong family. Is this example too ironical or mean?


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 10:47 a.m.

Wow I had no idea that a person could have that much angst about the homeless. I feel like I was transported into the 1960's, even the 1930's. No thanks for the ride. Ann Arbor residents are not hippie's. I've received that name calling before. Folks aren't living in little towns where a homeless man can be a ranch hand and live on a cot in the back of the barn. Homelessness is a huge part of everyone's community straight across the U.S. states and it includes women and children as well.


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 10:26 a.m.

Also Jackietreehorn, you're forgetting a security deposit typically well over a thousand dollars (and often reaching over two thousand dollars) to get into an apartment ANYWHERE around Ypsi or Ann Arbor, and unless it's a private landlord who owns the home then you are going to undergo a credit check before they will rent to you. I'm going to assume most homeless don't have good credit. It's hard to tell if you're trolling or not because I find it hard to believe someone could be so openly heartless about a group of homeless people while you sit in your own home in front of your own computer complaining about having to READ about them.

Danielle Mack

Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 8:56 a.m.

@JackieTreehorn, You should be aware since you seem to know so much about starting at the bottom that a job busing tables does NOT pay minimum wage, in fact it pays less than minimum wage. servers are supposed to tip their busers but don't always do so. You should also know that not everyone can get these jobs. There is a small thing called d-i-s-c-r-i-m-i-n-a-t-i-o-n, that all homeless face using any of the Delonis Center's addresses or phone numbers. Hiring managers from all over A2 know the address and phone numbers by heart and will automatically turn down an application that uses any of these numbers.


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 8:55 a.m.

I volunteer at Delonis, which is more than handing out food as someone suggested, and, unfortunately, they can't just take anyone who walks in off the street. They can only take so many who just need a place for the night. They do provide busses to those they can't take that will take them to area churches to stay. Some people come in but leave when they learn they have to take a breathalyzer test.

J. Sorensen

Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 2:59 a.m.

@jackietreehorn- Have you heard lately of the unemployment rate? NOT everyone is hiring, even for entry level jobs at min. wage. Trust me I battled the unemployment demon for a while before landing a job at a huge pay cut, but at least it's a job, which many can't get despite hundreds of applications!


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 12:44 a.m.

OK, here's an example. Anyone can bus tables or wash dishes. Anyone. Also, anyone can get a job busing tables or washing dishes. Anyone. These jobs pay at least minimum wage, every month, year after year. Minimum wage can provide an apartment in Ypsi. Throw in a roommate and it's even more affordable. While you're bussing tables or washing dishes, take advantage of low-income college programs or training for a better job. Most restaurants have employee food programs, too. I don't think the problem is the availability of low cost housing, or an uncaring society. I think the problem is that persons refuse to start at the bottom and work hard. Like bussing tables or washing dishes.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 10:17 p.m.

Hello, folks, be patient with me as I need to introduce homeless community again, because people still describe them as hippy. About 20-25% is veteran, 30-35% is mentally ill patients, certain percentage is disabled and chronic-diseased people. Some become homeless because of unemployment, or working poor, or fore-closure. Some from sexually-abused or violent families. Do you know that even "Safe House" (place for domestic-violence victims) has a maximum 35 days stay-limit. After that, you need to be on the waiting list of other places like "Stapler House"......If not well connected, everyone faces the chance of being homeless. Why not go to Delonis Homeless shelter, they only have 50 beds, three month permit, out of building at seven, only allowed be back at night. It's lucky that starting Dec 9, 2009. homeless people needed not sleep on CHAIRS. Such practice happened for years, they slept on chairs every nights. This is why people sleep out there. This is not their choice. The issue is "They don't have much choice". Volunteer at the shelter is just helping serve food. The long-term resolution to end Homelessness is to pursue "Affordable Housing". Ann Arbor demolished OLD YMCA low-income units. The city has not yet replaced them. Now, they're now even thinking of funding the private investment of hotel and conference room in the library's parking lot. It's not right. We can forget those people suffering from extreme poverty. Please check "Housing First Initiative" online. This is also a successful program in other states these two years to end homelessness. Of course, there're about 20-30% of people need help from substances abuse. Churches are parts of the Christ. Ron Gregg from First Baptist Church is now leading a group from different churches to try to offer a day-warm center for them. Do you know that no one is allowed to take even a nap at the library? Library has "Kick Out Rules". I pray the church leaders work faster and I hope I can see the second meeting come quickly as so many people need help. If you'd like to help or donate, check out www. tentcitymichigan. org


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 6:37 p.m.

Minimum wage in Michigan.......$7.40 an hour Monthly earnings for 160 hours.....$1184.00 Getting an apartment in Ypsi for $400 a month so I don't have to hear about Camp Take Notice anymore.......PRICELESS


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 6:15 p.m.

"We are calling on church leaders and representatives of philanthropic organizations in Ann Arbor to partner with us to create a permanent" Permanent!? You need help long enough to get your hippy butt back to work. Permanent!? Let the gullible take one step forward, I have to say you people picked the right city.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 6:11 p.m.

@cinnabar7071 I never suggested that we "tax" ourselves out of this. You and I can both step up and help out. What I was suggesting is rather than waist time forming a committee on a subject that will probably never see the light of day, we need to focus on issues such as this that can be addressed and solved far more realistically.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 4:54 p.m.

Megan Thanks for this incredible article calling attention to the serious problem of homelessness in Ann Arbor. The Michigan Department of Transportation has recently notified residents of Camp Take Notice that they have 30 days to vacate the the land on which they are currently making their home. CTN residents are now actively searching for a new location for their camp. With the changing of the season, the rotating shelter system is now terminating its services for the year and the people housed by the rotating shelter system will also be without homes at the end of this month. We are calling on church leaders and representatives of philanthropic organizations in Ann Arbor to partner with us to create a permanent system of rotating shelters which will also include "outdoor tent communities" to assist those those who are unable to use the Delonis Center for reasons beyond their control. We welcome the opportunity to dialog with concerned citizens of Ann Arbor. We can be reached by email: or at our website: Sincerely - MISSION BOARD


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 4:10 p.m.

Hadn't heard about this before. Where is it and also, for comfort and personal safety why aren't they at Delonis? There were way more panhandlers downtown Saturday than I've seen before which makes me wonder what other unseen plight is being lived out in Ann Arbor.

Kristin Judge

Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 4:07 p.m.

A representative from Camp Take Notice recently spoke at a Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting. I have been so touched by meeting some of the residents and the volunteers that are helping their fellow man just because it is the right thing to do. Megan, thank you for taking the time to write this beautiful story with the compassion I share for the residents. Washtenaw County has a "Blueprint to End Homelessness" program that has been in effect for 6 years so far. County staff, administration, board and residents have worked hard to create a community with services for residents in need. Unfortunately, the new economic situation we face has created more need for services. I have asked for an update to be presented to the Board of Commissioners on the blueprint after Brian Nord so eloquently told us that we may need a new carpenter working on it. We are a caring community, and I believe we will continue to care for all of the residents. There is more work to be done!

David Cahill

Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 2:26 p.m.

So where is Camp Take Notice now? What is being done about the Department of Transportation's directive that it be disbanded?


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 1:49 p.m.

Just step up! No reason to form a committee. The homeless shelter is always looking for volunteers, unless you feel it would just be better to tax our way out of this too.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 10:05 a.m.

This is sad, and yes the caption that "NO ONE SHOULD LIVE LIKE THIS" is so true. Maybe we should have a conference and discuss this issue rather than a monorail that runs from Michigan Stadium through the Hospital and to North Campus. We really need to take care of our own folks first, then if possible take care of other countries.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 9:40 a.m.

I think it would be nice to get the other recent articles about Camp Take Notice linked to this one.