Owner of Land Used for Homeless Encampment Fined Thousands

homeless encampment of tents

NIMBYs are Evolving

The owner of a plot of land in central Illinois may be found in indirect civil contempt due to his refusal to pay thousands of dollars in fines the city of Bloomington imposed for using land as a homeless encampment without a camping permit. The city says that the heart of the issue is the zoning restrictions on the property. It’s only zoned for single-family residences, not camping.

Not content with the old standbys of inaction or criminalization, local government has taken it upon themselves to punish a person trying in a small way to make up for the city’s poor treatment of its homeless residents.

Bloomington, if you didn’t want privately owned land to be used as a safe haven for a displaced homeless encampment, maybe you should have housed the people camping there instead of trying to sweep them away.

Not In His Backyard!

Chris Collins offered up a piece of his vacant land as a safe place for unhoused people to go after they were pushed out of their previous location last summer. You would think this would be a common-sense solution that won’t get anybody’s panties in a twist.

But the NIMBYs have risen to the challenge, morphing into a new category of overzealous, self-appointed neighborhood police- the N.I.H.B.Y.

Although the camp is set up with permission on another person’s legally owned parcel of land, they still think it shouldn’t be allowed- not in his backyard. 

Multiple neighbors living in safe, secure homes near the plot of land have complained about unhoused people existing so close to their property line. 

In response, Collins said that the people living on his land are “not going to be out here in this community panhandling or nothing else. I just don’t want them to be harassed.”

Collins founded a non-profit called H.O.P.E. which stands for Housing Our People Everywhere. At one time, he had plans to build structures on the land to provide temporary housing for local unhoused people. 

Unsurprisingly, the neighbors didn’t seem convinced by this argument, or else they couldn’t hear it over the imaginary sound of their property values dropping. As we all know, nothing is more important to a NIMBY than the myth that the presence of homeless people causes property values to plummet anywhere within a 10-mile radius. Not even the lives and safety of their fellow human beings. They’ve demonstrated these priorities time and time again.

A Short-Lived Respite for Homeless People

Due to complaints from neighbors and city ordinance violations, the respite offered on Collins’ land was ultimately short-lived. The land provided a safe place to camp without fear of arrest for a few months before city code inspectors came to seek out ordinance violations. Subsequently, they issued an eviction notice from the parcel, which was zoned only for single-family residences. 

This is when the fines started to stack up. What began as a $50 daily fine for seven different ordinance violations occurring on the property quickly ballooned into over $7,000 in fines and fees. The city hopes to extract these fees with a lien against the property now for sale. 

An Example to Emulate?

This story of an ordinary citizen just trying to make a difference in the lives of his neighbors and do what he can with what he’s got can certainly be inspiring. And while actions like these can positively impact when done well, the ideal future is not one where everyone’s backyard has its own mini tent village.

While having safe places to camp can keep people safer from arrest, citation, and violence in the short term, it’s certainly not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to end homelessness entirely.

What’s notable about this story is the seemingly endless energy the city has to slap down good-faith interventions that aren’t hurting anybody. If only they kept that same energy when it came time to implement solutions for housing the unhoused people that live in their city.

Collins has said that he feels targeted by the city, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s not every day you see a local government bringing its full might to bear against a singular resident making an earnest, if misguided, effort to make a positive change in his community. You might think they’d turn a blind eye to a benign situation like this to avoid the bad P.R., but not Bloomington!

NIMBYs: It’s Time to Redirect Your Energy

The city of Bloomington visited the sight of this unpermitted encampment and issued citations and fines. Then it went through a lengthy legal process to get a judgment and place a lien on the property. With all the energy and resources the city poured into these efforts, imagine what could be done instead if they tried to help people.

The nearby neighbors complained about having to live nearby their poorest and most vulnerable neighbors. Instead, what if they funneled that energy into complaining to their local elected officials? What if they pointed out the inhospitable conditions people lived in with no government intervention stopping them from falling so far into poverty? What could a gaggle of NIMBYs get done to secure housing as a human right for all people if they put their minds to it? I’m betting they could move the needle quite a bit.

Shifting focus away from punitive measures that try to push the problem away allows us all more time, energy, and resources to dedicate to solving the root issue once and for all. That benefits all of us, even the NIMBYs, who will fight against it tooth and nail every single step of the way.

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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