Back to basics: Resourcefulness is key to survival at a makeshift homeless camp in the city. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

Where do you go when you get kicked out of a homeless shelter?

For a group of men, the answer is ‘Hole-in-the-Fence’. 

That’s the name given to a small but expanding encampment in North Hamilton that a handful call home. 

These are men who live without electricity. Their abode is made of things people throw away. The food they eat is given away by pantries. They are known to police and local business owners. 

How did they end up here?

And what does it say, if anything, about the state of Bermuda in 2014?

We went to find out. 

It ain’t fancy: Four homeless men currently live in the encampment, while a handful of others who sleep in nearby junked cars are fed here. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

avid Melvin Jones did not like the rules of the homeless shelter, so he created his own.

The 54-year-old has his own encampment on government land near the Salvation Army on North Street in Hamilton. 

To access the place, which Mr Jones dubs “Hole-in-the-Fence”, you have to go through a — you guessed it — gap in a chainlink fence, walk past rows and rows of junked cars – something he calls “Car World” — through another hole in another chain link fence and up a crumbling set of stairs. 

Atop the steps is, for all intents and purposes, his home: a dystopian-looking structure comprised of lashed-together tarps, tents, plywood, pallets, PVC pipe and bamboo, among other materials. 

Here, Mr Jones has carved out a small community of men who live on the fringes. Some have left the homeless shelters because they didn’t like the rules — you can’t smoke weed and curfew is too early, they say. Others didn’t like the lack of privacy in the dorm-style living of the shelters. Others got kicked out.

“They say go back to what you know. Well this is what I know: living rough,” says Mr Jones, who originally hails from Somerset. “Although I don’t call it rough; I just call it living. Your trash is my treasure, you know?”

The boss:
David Melvin Jones has lived here for more than two years.  He has plans to expand the encampment. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

Four men are staying in the encampment now. Mr Jones also serves food to a handful of homeless who sleep in the vehicles that are in various stages of disassembly in ‘Car World’. Many of the homeless bring him food from various pantries and he cooks for them. If there’s room in the encampment, he lets people stay.

“It’s like Mary and Joseph; if there’s no room in the inn, they can’t come in.”

Mr Jones says he has had two stints in homeless shelters: once for two months in 1991 and another stretch that lasted more than a year starting in 2008. He likes having his own space, as he does now.

In the past, he worked construction and in hotels. He does some work as a mover, he says. That’s where he comes by a lot of the things that comprise the camp, he says. How often he works is unclear, but he apparently makes enough money to own a cell phone.

He says the government owns the tract of land that he stays on, but allows him to stay there. He says police are aware of his presence.  It is not unusual for them to call him when they suspect a vagrant who is wanted for a crime is staying at the “Hole-in-the-Fence”. He cooperates with them, he says.

Cardboard walls: One of the beds inside one of the encampment’s ‘rooms’. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

“It’s not snitching,” he says. “Everyone knows my policy: Leave your problems at the gate. If you bring in a problem, I’m going to deal with the problem.”

He acknowledges that ‘Car World’ can be a hotbed of illicit activity. Drug use and prostitution, for instance. He says he never feels unsafe, despite living next to such crime and dealing with people who have it rough. He says he knows how to deal with people, adding that he knows martial arts if things turn physical.

“I talk them down. And if I can’t talk them down, then I’ll beat them down.”

In the camp, there is a shelf full of canned goods and a cooler for perishable items. There is an array of pots and pans and an open-air cooking pit in the middle of the camp. 

There is a bookshelf stocked with paperbacks. The camp’s wardrobe includes button-down shirts, football jerseys, vests and jackets. 

If someone needs clothes, they take what they need, he says. 

Mr Jones is currently trying to coax a garden out of a patch of dirt underneath a milksap tree.  In his “room”, he has a bed and love seat. Occasionally, a nearby garage provides water, he says. The camp used to have a generator but it no longer works.

Mr Jones is a proud guy; he’s proud of the work he’s put into the camp to make it livable. He’s proud that he’s able to help people who have hit what many would consider rock bottom. He’s proud of his appearance: when he hears a photographer is coming to take his picture, he asks for 10 minutes so he can shave and put on a fresh shirt.

He plans to expand the shelter. He’s talking about making another section from bamboo shafts. He has been living here for two-and-a-half years.

“We still got a lot of work to do,” he says. 

Protocol: David Jones locks up the front entrance.  *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

What do you think?

What does this story tell us about the state of Bermuda in 2014? 
Is it a reflection of our struggling economy?
Are there bigger issues to address here or is this simply a case of men on the margins of society essentially choosing to live rough? Comment below or e-mail feedback to editor Tony McWilliam: