AUSTIN, Texas - The homeless community at a state-sanctioned campground in East Austin is organizing into their own town.
So far, they've selected seven members to help bring in donations and put together community events.
The once mostly empty lot off U.S. 183 and Montopolis in East Austin has become home to more than 100 people without another place to go.
“We give everybody a chance. We don't judge your past history or nothing like that. We give everybody a chance,” said Cori Roberts, the secretary of the committee.
Once referred to as “Camp Abbott” because the governor opened the state-owned land to the homeless population, people there are now calling it something else.
“It's called ‘Camp R.A.T.T.’ Responsible Adult Transition Town. For the homeless, run by the homeless,” Roberts said.
Like every town, Camp R.A.T.T. now has its own list of leaders.
“Well, we have donation and volunteer recruiters, we have maintenance and general labor recruiters, we have the web designer, and the media outreach, we have security, and then we have the treasurer/donation organizer,” said Roberts.
Roberts schedules town meetings each week. The seven-person committee, nominated by those at the camp, has held two of them so far.
“It's important because we actually have a voice, we actually have a hand that we are actually putting forth to make our lives a little bit better,” said LaShawn Ramsey, web designer for the committee.
Changing the perception of the homeless community is important to those living at the camp.
“We wanted to show people that we're not just criminals, drug addicts, slobs, bums off the street… That we're actually just like anybody else in this community, just without a house,” Roberts said.
“A lot of us have high school diplomas, we have college degrees, we've been in the workforce field, we've been general managers,” said Ramsey.
Right now, the committee is focused on finding food donations so they don't always have to rely on provided MREs, providing hot showers instead of the makeshift stalls and water hose they are currently using, organizing events to help out others in the greater Austin community and giving newcomers a point of contact so they don't feel alone.
Donations can be dropped off at the campsite from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Right now donations are being sought for food, pallets to build benches and structures, clothing and blankets.
“Don't be afraid to come out here. If you've got nowhere to live, you want the laws to leave you alone for being under a bridge, come out here. It's safe. There's not really any violence out here. We're all a big family, a town,” Roberts said.
The committee says theft, violence and drug use is not tolerated at Camp R.A.T.T. and anyone caught doing those things is turned over to DPS troopers on site.