Smile Politely

City stance on Safe Haven ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Since first gaining media attention in June of this year, Safe Haven Tent Community has presented the greater C-U community with a real challenge. It has forced us to qualify how we define community members while exposing the inadequate way in which we deal with poverty. Some of us have stepped up to this challenge by promoting an attitude of acceptance. Others have gone a step further by openly advocating for the people who make up this small community of homeless people. But most of us have responded with complacency or even worse, antagonism, when confronted with the questions that Safe Haven’s mere presence has begged.

City Manager Steve Carter, arguably Champaign’s most powerful member, has chosen to respond with contempt. On very shaky legal ground, he has chosen to represent the will of the people by pursuing the dozen or so homeless people who comprise Safe Haven in a manner that is reminiscent of a Dickensian villain. Carter, (the unelected administrator of Champaign’s municipal policies) along with Mayor Jerry Schweighart and the Champaign City Council, have not only chosen to follow Safe Haven all the way to St. Mary’s Church in order to rigidly enforce the zoning laws that ban people from living in temporary structures, but they have done so without what appears to be a complaint on file. It makes me wonder how many complaintless noise violations the city has lying around?

I also wonder if they are willing to enforce the practices that they’ve implemented for Safe Haven in a uniform way. Will they send squad cars to the quad when student organizations camp out over night for charity? Will they levy fines on you when your son and daughter have a campout slumber party in your backyard?

I don’t think so.

Self-evidently, children and student-run organizations have advocates that would go nuts on the city if they even thought about it. What’s more is that you’d be pissed about it, too.

As it stands, Safe Haven advocates are doing all they can. They’ve helped the group move several times, they’ve implemented a long term plan that complies with the city ordinance, and they’ve gone out of their way to open their proverbial doors to the greater community.

A major reason that they’ve been unable to appeal to the city’s better impulse on this matter is because of the tepid support that they’ve received from you. The outpouring of support that they’ve needed to put the city to shame for its rigid, and frankly cruel, practices has been largely absent to this point. Safe Haven has requested an additional few weeks at their current location so that they can transition their model into one that would be in accord with the city’s expectations. They have gone through pains to meet the city halfway. Their rhetoric is firm but polite, their stance is reasonable and pragmatic, but as I write this, the city remains unmoved both in its position and in its disposition.

This should be unacceptable to us.

It can be hard to pick up the phone or send an email for a cause that you believe in. No, I’m not being sarcastic, it really can be; it just seems like such a lofty thing to do sometimes, and even though the physical act of doing it is simple and requires little effort, the mental leap that one must make in order to go from being an observer to an activist can be a hard one to make. Even still, I urge you to make that leap.

There should be no mistaking that Steve Carter has the power to grant these citizens a temporary reprieve so that they can, as the conservatives like to say, begin to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It is for this reason that he should hear from the people he works for (in this case, his boss’ bosses). As it stands, he may not be elected by we the people of Champaign, but he is most certainly accountable to us.

Please take the time to call or email Mr. Carter with your thoughts and concerns on this matter, and remember to smile politely when doing so.

City Manager — Steve Carter

102 N. Neil St. Champaign, IL 61820

217-403-8710 /

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