This is an opinion piece written by Theresa Alt, a local activist and member of Democratic Socialists of America. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit opinion pieces, send them to Matt Butler at

Ithaca City Common Council has been discussing the TIDES (The Ithaca Designated Encampment Site) proposal, now called the “Recommended Framework for the City of Ithaca Pilot Policy on Unsanctioned Encampments on City Property.” TIDES would eliminate unauthorized camping in The Jungle by replacing it with a “sanctioned campsite” with amenities and even cottages, paired with enforcement of regulations against camping elsewhere. The “sanctioned encampment” takes inspiration from Carmen Guidi’s successful Second Wind Cottages in Newfield and adds access for social service workers to that. The enforcement part is traditional policing. Not all Common Council members are in favor. Common Council has talked about it repeatedly but has not really focused on hammering it out. Not yet, anyway.

Meanwhile, the Human Service Coalition’s Continuum of Care (CoC) has proposed a similar, but different plan that they call “Home Together.” For starters, there is a commitment to building 100 studio and 1-bedroom units of Permanent Supportive Housing. Home Together, too, has a designated encampment. The designated site would offer garbage collection, sharps containers, maintenance and cleaning, also access to storage for personal belongings. Home Together builds relationships with unhoused people before trying to persuade them to do something. It connects people to shelters or housing, as well as mental health and health care services. Shelters would have to be low-barrier shelters with few requirements, trauma-informed practices and no unnecessary rules. The rules are only those necessary for people to live together peacefully. One huge problem is that shelters charge their clients a big chunk of their earnings. This seems to be a feature of New York State law and thus may be difficult to change.  

The Home Together plan links temporarily sheltered people with permanent housing and supportive services. Access to housing should also be low-barrier. Research now says that housing comes first; then people can start to deal with their other issues such as overcoming addictions and finding jobs.

Home Together plans to house many people quickly—in one or a few days—using a HUD-suggested “Housing Surge” strategy that takes advantage of federal COVID funding while it is available. 

Home Together would not enforce bans on camping anywhere else. Rather than force houseless people into the designated encampment, it relies on some campers trying it out on their own, then telling their friends about the advantages of going there or even living there. 

The overall plan is backed by evidence from years of research by numerous Federal agencies. Locally it involves many agencies and takes advantage of the lived expertise of unsheltered people, paying such people compensation for serving on its board. 

The Home Together planners suggest a number of other initiatives that would make it easier to get people into homes successfully:

  • A small fund ($5,000) to compensate landlords and businesses in case of bad experiences with a few new renters.
  • “Cash for Trash,” to pay people say $10 for bringing in a bag of collected litter.
  • Move-in assistance like trucks, and supplying household needs like trash tags, pots and pans, cleaning supplies, linens.
  • Hiring and training three housing navigators to help 10-12 individuals having the greatest needs to fill out paperwork, stay in compliance with the shelter, find shelter or housing, and once housed, help them stay housed.

When there are fewer unhoused people in this community, there will surely be fewer calls for police, fewer calls for EMTs and other emergency responders, and less use of the hospital emergency room. That will lead to many cost savings to local governments.

It looks as if Home Together takes the best parts of TIDES, an authorized encampment and provision of more services and more supportive housing, but eliminates the problematic and expensive enforcement of regulations against camping elsewhere.