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No Sweet Home The Jungle

Written By: Kellie Meyer

WENY"s Kellie Meyer takes an in depth look at Ithaca’s homeless encampment known as the Jungle.

No Sweet Home The Jungle

May 15, 2014

ITHACA (WENY) -- December 11th 2013, Rick Sherman died just trying to keep himself warm in his tent. It was a harsh winter in the Jungle, one of the coldest in years. Rick's death was another alarm to the City that something had to be done.
     But just what is the Jungle?
    "The second somebody comes into town and they say I'm homeless where can I go to go camp? The first place their going to say is the jungle," said Brian Shough, former Jungle resident.
     Below the Ivy league campus. Past the busy streets. Hidden away in the woods. Is this place. For over a century people have called home. Brian Shough lived in the jungle for four years after losing his job.
     "Try pitching a tent in the middle of winter. Try living outside. Then get back to me. It isn't easy," Brian added. 
     Brian lived in the jungle for four years after losing his job.
     "I mean if you wanted to get out. We knew had to get out. If we wanted to leave we knew how to leave. I mean we always had the Red Cross that was right there. If we wanted to go through the hoops to get out of the Jungle. That's what we did. If you didn't want to, that's where you go," said Brian.
     But getting out is harder than you might think.
     "It's straight up depression. And it just gets worse and worse as time goes on. And you do, you lose hope."
     This man gave Brian something to hope for. 
     "So many people say they don't want the help. Well they do want the help it's just overwhelming."
     Carmen Guidi of Newfield not only helped Brian get out of the Jungle, but adopted his son Jake, who they lovingly call 'Jungle baby.' Brian and countless other previous Jungle residents came here, to Second Wind Cottages. They are homes Carmen built behind his auto body shop on Route 13. But he can't do it all on his own. 
     Carmen recruited the Rescue Mission to bring more shelters to the area.  They built Court Street Place, a shelter for homeless men in 2012 and took over for the Red Cross in 2013. But just hours after the grand opening last month, another death in the Jungle.
     "How in the world. The richest county. And the lowest unemployment in the state of New York. Can have such a thing," said Gossa Tsegaye, Assistant Professor Television and Radio Department at Ithaca College, has been studying the Jungle for over 20 years. And has a theory as to why the Jungle has been around for so long.
     He added, "The March of the Penguins. What is inside that attracts them. To continue to that journey. To be among themselves, who look like them, feel like them. To remind them of this generation of memories." 
     Joe Lotito, a former Jungle resident, he said, "I didn't move down here because I was homeless I was never homeless I moved down here because I felt part of life down here. I loved it down here."
    This March proves true for Joe, who says he wants to stay in the Jungle.
     "And now I live in Newfield cause they tore my house down, everything I believed in is gone. So Mayor Svante lied to me."
     The city came in and bulldozed a path through the Jungle and it seems to be working the Jungle is empty. But after generations of being here, will the effort work.
     Mayor Svante Myrick, Mayor of Ithaca said, "three years ago I thought we shouldn't clear the Jungle because we didn't have the places for people to go, two years ago I felt the same, a year ago I felt the same. So what's changed? We have more shelter options, lots more shelter options. Between Carmen's trailers and cottages. Court Street Mission, Rescue Mission, Magnolia House and we've lost too many people down there.  Ricks death and Russels death were the last straws with Will being injured in that fire, I couldn't continue to enable people to live down there."
     Tsegaye said, "so if you remove them from one area is what they do they push themselves to other places."
     For some in Ithaca, they'll keep trying.
     Carmen Guidi added, "I never feel like we've arrived."
     For Brian, for others in the Jungle and for Rick.
     But is it enough?
     In a story from May 4, 2012, Richard Sherman said, "sometimes, you just need help."