Preparing for an Encampment

Preparing for successfully hosting a tent encampment takes significant planning — some of which should begin years before an encampment’s residents arrive. Below you’ll find a list to get you started.

Two to three years out

Approval. You’ll need a core group of individuals committed to making an encampment happen. At a university, that core group should include students, staff, and faculty. At a church, the group should include a cross-section of the congregation.

This process may take a couple of years, but don’t get discouraged. Make your case, grow your support, present your request to the school administration or church leadership, and don’t give up until you get approval.

One to two years out

Paperwork. Once you have approval, your administration and facilities department (or church administration) should apply for a land use permit and go through the city processes related to obtaining permits and approvals.

Logistics. Once the paperwork clears, your administration and facilities department (or church administration) should decide where the encampment will be located.

The best strategy to engage with people experiencing homelessness is to locate the encampment somewhere central to the life of the campus or church — rather than in a back parking lot or unused field.

Next, your leadership must decide what kind of physical support you can provide, including:

  • Potable water
  • Gray-water tanks
  • Fencing
  • Electricity
  • Garbage and recycling containers, etc.

Jointly author an agreement between your organization and the encampment to cover topics such as:

  • Security
  • Hygiene
  • Site construction and maintenance
  • Conduct
  • Capacity
  • Emergency communication
  • General information
  • Departure clean-up, etc.

Faculty involvement. After logistics are in place at a university, ask your provost to appoint or invite deans and department heads to serve on a committee that supports curricular inclusion of topics related to homelessness.

Congregational involvement. After logistics are in place at a church, invite church members to join a committee that will support inclusion of topics related to homelessness in your ministry, Bible studies, or Sunday school curriculum. When your congregants are involved, they can consider and begin to address issues related to homelessness in a deeper way.

Updating concerned constituents. Be sure to have your university president or provost write to all students and their parents, staff, and faculty about the encampment. Churches should likewise notify congregants and members.

Anticipate questions by addressing safety, how many residents are expected, length of stay, why the university is hosting, what will be the encampment residents’ access to buildings, cost to the university, etc. Invite them to become involved!

One month out

Surrounding neighborhood. About three weeks prior to an encampment, notify the surrounding neighborhood via a leaflet by informing them of the upcoming stay. Invite your neighbors to a community meeting, where they can ask questions and voice concerns.

Remember: Neighbors want to hear from the university/church and camp leadership instead of reading about in the newspaper or community blogs. Build goodwill every chance you can.

Recommended committees

Whether you’re part of a university or church, these committees will support a successful encampment. Organize them, and have the committees meet to begin their planning, well ahead of the time the encampment arrives.

Food, Services, and Auxiliary Support Committee

  • To facilitate campus groups and off-campus service providers.

Educational Programming Committee (before the encampment arrives)

  • To coordinate campus or church forums exploring policies, advocacy options, and creative solutions to help end homelessness. Ideas can include an all-campus or all-church book and/or book groups, or showing short documentaries in residence halls or Sunday school classes.

Faculty/Classroom or Church Engagement Committee

  • To incorporate homelessness in curriculum, class discussions, or service learning. Working with the university library or local city library, committee members may disseminate reading and class speaker lists.

Programming Committee

  • To promote student club engagement that will supply meals or snacks, and organize activities such as board games, crocheting, poetry slam, music, or book study. This committee may also train and support student tour guides of the encampment, and help with questions and debriefing.
  • A church-based committee should work to accomplish the same goals.
“Having the tent city on campus allowed us to bridge two disparate communities. ”
Karen A. Snedker and Jennifer McKinney
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Move in day for TC3

Putting homelessness
front and center

Read about how SPU students, faculty, and staff came together to serve their Tent City 3 neighbors.