PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Some in Peoria’s homeless population are still searching for answers to the question of where do you go when there’s no place to go?
Over the past week, a few in the community said it’s been a back and forth of getting kicked off properties and getting cleared out of the area.
Some woke up Wednesday morning in tents that were tucked away and wedged between twigs, branches, and mud in the woodsy area behind Peoria’s Landmark Recreational Center. This is just one of the sites where they laid their heads.
They moved to this location after their last encampment site was vandalized over the weekend.
“I’m kind of outraged by it because it’s not like I say, it’s not every day we get tents,” John Kittinger, a Peoria man experiencing homelessness, said. “I was saddened and hurt by it.”
The previous site, which was once home, is now littered with sliced-up and soaked tents and waste. There have also been concerns about litter getting left behind, including needles.
Kshe Bernard, the co-founder of LULA Not-For-Profit in Peoria, said, “The camp that was vandalized, they had to leave in a hurry in the morning, it was flooded. They’ve been trying to get their belongings out of there, but they are on foot, and it’s a lot, and eventually, we’ll be doing a clean-up at their last spot.”
Kittinger said he’s been experiencing homelessness off and on for about five years. In those five years, he said one constant is that he and his “street fam” are constantly forced from one spot to the next.
“It’s rough because some of us got a lot of stuff, some of us accumulate a lot of stuff,” Kittinger said. “You have to carry things, we don’t have access to buses or vehicles. We have to call the organization that we’re in, which is LULA through JOLT.”
Another member of the street fam, Heather Polkinghorne, said, “I try to do the best that I can after myself and my husband. I try to make sure that our personal things aren’t everywhere, and I try to make sure that any mess we make I clean up or he helps clean up.”
Bernard said during the weekend wreckage, they were able to place those impacted in a local motel until they found the Landmark location.
But it was at this location, Kittinger said, they heard a familiar phrase on Wednesday.
“You got one hour to leave, or I’m calling police,” Kittinger said.
They were once again told they had to leave because the area was private property.
An officer on the scene said this was a reasonable ask because the site was on private property, but he also said he understood both sides.
Bernard, while fighting to have the street fam stay and work with Landmark’s management, said she’s never seen them so disheartened.
“Having to break camp, having to be told you’re not welcome here, you’re not allowed here, you’re trash, and they’re like ‘where do we go?” Bernard said. “These are people, these are humans, and they would love to be allowed somewhere, and they’re seen as disposable.”
She said this was about the 6th time this group has had to pack up and leave in the past four weeks and said they’re running out of options. She said she’d like to see more resources dedicated to this population.
“I would love for the city to allow them to be somewhere or a kind business owner, we are willing to take any help we can get just to allow them to live,” Bernard said.
Kittinger said there’s a misconception that the homeless community is all lazy, and said he’d like members of the general population to talk to those who are homeless for more understanding.
“We come from different places, we come from broken homes we come from drug-addict families, we come from abusive people,” Kittinger said. “I wish people would just come and talk to us, that’s what I really want because that’s how you get to know about the homeless.”
The street fam did find a new location shortly after, off of the private property.