Owner of Joplin homeless camp plans to close it before cold weather arrives

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | 2:29 p.m. CDT; updated 5:41 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 10, 2011

JOPLIN— The man who provided space where people could camp after the May 22 tornado said he wants to close it by early September before colder weather hits.

At one point, 40 to 50 people were living at the camp, including people who were left homeless by the tornado, volunteers and some people who went to Joplin to find jobs or new opportunities. About a dozen people remained at the camp this week, The Joplin Globe reported Wednesday.

The landowner, Clyde Black, said he opened the camp to help people, but he never intended to keep it open indefinitely. The camp, dubbed Clyde's Place, started when Black allowed a relative, Christy Owen, to live there after her home was destroyed by the tornado.

More people followed, and at its peak, the camp offered electricity, a communal big screen television, showers, laundry facilities and restrooms.

Ray Reinerson, a recent arrival from Austin, Texas, said all the remaining residents of the camp are actively looking for work. He said he expects to find long-term employment as part of the city's rebuilding effort.

"My goal is to come up here and go to work," he said. "There's going to be years of rebuilding. It's going to take time."

Black acknowledged that some residents of the camp have taken advantage of the charity sent to the city after the tornado and other problems occurred.

The most serious was in late July, when 38-year-old Vince Belisle suffered burns after his tent was set on fire while he slept. Another resident of the camp was charged with second-degree arson. Police said the two men had argued about money. Belisle is living in an air-conditioned camper at the site while he recovers.

Soon after the fire, with Black's consent, Missouri National Guardsmen began patrolling the camp several times a day. Black said that prompted some people to leave, and he agreed to give those who remained more time to arrange housing.

Black said operating Clyde's Place has been educational and somewhat therapeutic.

"The next time I see my psychologist, she's going to be amazed that I was able to hang around this many people," he said. "To call me a recluse would be an understatement."

Given the chance, Black said he would open the camp again.

"These people are hurting, and I don't mind helping," he said. "I can't imagine not helping these people. If what I'm doing is special, there's something wrong with this world."

Jennifer Pliler of The Alliance of Southwest Missouri Homeless Coalition said preliminary results from a homeless count conducted July 27 show 136 unsheltered homeless people living in the Joplin area, including those living at Clyde's Place.

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