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CAMP HOPE: Day and night at Yakima's low-barrier shelter

Updated: Jan 8, 2022


Photos by Mark White, Dignity City

A small garden maintained by staff greets visitors at the entrance of Camp Hope in Yakima.

Text and photography by Mark White Dignity City contributor

In early October, on a beautiful fall weekend, with the aspens blazing gold all along Interstate 90, I made my way from Seattle to Camp Hope, a little-known homeless shelter on the outskirts of Yakima. My first visit a few weeks earlier had given me a small taste of the camp and its residents. Now, I was heading back for more.

Situated on city land adjacent to the Yakima Wastewater Division’s sewage treatment plant, the camp offers short- and long-term shelter for up to 250 women, men and youth — including families with children and people with pets.

Many of the staff and volunteers are experiencing homelessness themselves — or have experienced it in the past. Camp residents contribute everything from bathroom cleaning and food prep, to wood splitting and site clean up. Everyone helps keep Camp Hope afloat.

For two days and a night, I interviewed more than a dozen residents and staff and struck up casual conversations with many more. I took hundreds of photographs. I slept in the men’s dorm, near a 60-year old former inmate of 22 years with stage-three cancer who told me he was here mentoring younger residents in order to give back to the society from which he had taken so much.

While I was offered access without strings to the family and youth dorms, I did not expect a level of openness from those with whom I spoke. They spoke freely and frankly of their pasts. I heard many reasons for landing in the streets: deaths in the family that triggered alcohol and drugs; divorces; condemned apartment; broken spines; bipolarity; a 40-year career that offered no retirement; a gunshot wound to the head.

Camp Hope seems safe, secure, caring and clean for those who stay there. Camp rules help keep it that way. Health services are offered on-site. If health care is needed beyond what they can offer, they will drive residents to appointments where camp staff can advocate for them if that’s needed.

My photographs speak more about Camp Hope than I can put into words. So to explain the camp’s philosophy please read my interview with Mike Kay, the ex-cop and pastor who founded the camp in 2017 and is now its director. He’ll explain the “relationship model,” which lays the camp’s foundation. The interview is also available on the Dignity City site.

Every evening each resident must check into the main office and receive a color-coded band that staff monitors use to keep non-residents out. The office is also used to dispense approved medications to residents.

A narcotics dog is randomly brought into the camp to check residents for drugs. The camp residents requested the dog as a way to help residents in recovery maintain sobriety and to keep each other safe.

Camp Hope is situated adjacent to the City Wastewater Division's sewage treatment plant.

The city of Yakima does not allow residents to live in their vehicles. Camp Hope offers room for residents to store their cars and RVs while staying at the shelter.

Church groups and other volunteers deliver and hand out meals at least once a day.

The camp has partnerships with the Yakima Comprehensive Health and other service providers who use the out buildings to meet with residents on site.

Many residents suffer from a wide variety of health issues that require the use of walkers, canes and chairs.

The camp owns several vehicles, which are used to transport residents to medical appointments and other services, and to pick up people who have been referred by police or other shelters.

Resident Thomas Page, alongside his wife Shianne Horman-Page, sings at the evening camp fire.

An evening around the fire in early October, when the evening temperatures dropped to the mid-30s.

A resident warms himself near the campfire.

A resident sits by the fire at Camp Hope in Yakima.

Shianne Horman-Page recites a poem she wrote for her husband Thomas.

A Camp Hope resident warms up in the morning sun.

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