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An inside look at ‘The Hill’: Hamilton’s tent city highlights struggles, but officials hope for progress

A growing number of homeless in the area has some residents concerned, especially in the Hamilton Plaza on Route 4, where a large number of homeless people have created a tent city for shelter.

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“The Hill,” as it’s known, is a series of tattered tents that form a homeless camp behind the railroad tracks that run behind the plaza. A few new tents have arrived as hard times have hit more people, according to Kathy Becker, who is part of a task force to combat homelessness that has formed in Hamilton.

Becker, along with Mayor Pat Moeller, have visited various homeless camps across the city and have been to the one behind the plaza.

She is hoping that connecting those in the camps with the resources they need will help provide a reasonable solution to the homeless problem that is growing in the city.

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“I think bringing resources and providers together to explore options and solutions are a must,” she said. “Providers are not just social service providers but also faith-based and other community outreach programs.”

On a chilly Thursday morning, Lillie Nelson, 54, a resident of “Tent City,” was busy stirring soup and getting prepared for the predicted snowfall this weekend.

Lillie Nelson cooks soup on a propane grill at a homeless camp behind Hamilton Plaza shopping center Thursday, March 22. Nelson has lived in the camp for nearly a year. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF (Staff Writer)

“I have been out here for more than a year and just do what I can to survive,” Nelson said as she stirred a pot of tomato soup with vegetables and meat in it. “We all kind of look out for each other and keep each other safe. We try to stay warm and make sure we can eat.”

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She called the west side of Hamilton home for several years, but after losing her job, her life skidded. 

“I know people think that it’s just drugs and stuff like that that gets you out here,” she said. “I don’t do heroin or that stuff … I just lost my job, but I hope that things will change and I’ll keep trying to make it better.”

Nelson said people living in the homeless camp appreciated the visit from Becker and Moeller when the two came to take a look at “Tent City.”

Connie Lathey, 57, known as the “cat lady” because of her multiple cats, emerged from her tent and said she’s been living in the “Tent City” for five years.

“I’ve seen all the drugs and stuff and now the trash out here has gotten worse,” Lathey said. “Living by the railroad tracks has been bad, because my husband got hit by a train last year and lost his legs.”

Many in the camp have rallied around her, and she tries to keep her spirits up.

“She’s really a good person,” Nelson said. “She looks out for us too.”

Doug Miller said he does “a lot of ministry up here and try to get them going in the right direction.” He has been living in “Tent City” for about eight months, he said.

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Doug Miller, known as “Pops” around camp, prepares for his day outside the homeless camp behind Hamilton Plaza shopping center Thursday, March 22. Nelson has lived in the camp for nearly a year. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF (Staff Writer)

“After my wife passed away I kind of just stopped moving,” he said. “We are like a big family out here, we just sort of save each other. I have seen the streetwalkers and drug problems too.”

Miller said that the search for housing is not a constant one for most living in the camp because they’ve “sort of accepted that this is where they live.”

The Cove Motel that sits on Dixie Highway a short distance from “Tent City” is where some of the homeless seek shelter, Miller said.

“People will try to raise enough money to stay there every now and again,” he said.

As for any homeless people causing problems in the plaza, Nelson said that most people have a stigma when they encounter a homeless person and many of the problems are overstated.

Reports indicate reported problems with panhandling and drug-related issues, according to police.

Tents are set up in a homeless camp behind Hamilton Plaza shopping center Thursday, March 22. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF (Staff Writer)

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