At Lilly’s self-driving city campsite, everyone gets a bed and food

Margriet Oostveen

She drives a green car through Eindhoven, likes to fry dandelions and is homeless attitude: Lilly Hendriks (50), self-proclaimed ‘experience worker’, likes to take care of other homeless people. Lilly could not raise her two college children alone, says her mother Colette, who over the phone tells me how Lilly came to be like that. It started with postpartum psychosis, after which Lilly turned to heroin to everyone’s amazement. She’s been out of it for eight years now, but Lilly remained violent and on the streets. Colette: ‘It’s a long and sad story.’

In the shelter, Lilly was not allowed to take her dog Lava with her, and when she was offered a house, she was thrown out again because she let street friends stay there. Someone has to take care of them, Lilly says. Her mother: ‘That’s how she ended up on a blacklist from the housing association.’

Her parents did what they could. Lilly also did not like a room in their house, so they bought a campervan for her. She also welcomed homeless people there who could not manage elsewhere: ‘All the places where they slept outside, their things were taken away.’ Lilly collected dry clothes and sleeping bags in the camper for those who needed it.

Then the motorhome burned down. Her parents bought the little green car for Lilly. She became a local celebrity with her big mouth and heart. That Eindhovens Dagblad wrote about her and she was allowed to give a presentation at the Amsterdam City Challenge Hackathon on ‘the sustainable city’. Lilly arrived with a powerpoint presentation entitled: ‘The Sustainable Urban City Camping† I laugh at her flair over those words. Lilly, seriously: “With a garden of today, yesterday and to a new one tomorrow

We chat on garden chairs in a nice bend of the river Dommel, well hidden between copper herring and poplar, in the middle of Eindhoven. I could not find the place, called Lilly, which told me which bushes I should go up to. There I found seven tents, assembled and set up by Lilly for those who need a place to sleep: her sustainable city campsite, but now in earnest.

In March, they started sleeping here, Lilly and her best street friends for years, Henk and Pepo. Henk ended up on the streets through mental health services, Pepo as an exploited Bulgarian labor migrant. A homeless man had long been tolerated in a tent here until he left last winter, leaving a breathtaking amount of rubbish. Lilly, Henk and Pepo cleaned up everything.

From left to right: Pepo, Henk and Lilly with Lava at the campsite

In the middle is now a makeshift kitchen under a party tent, where Lilly cooks for all the guests every night. The street priest came to bring groceries, Lilly even drives her car past the food bank and other generous donors.

During my visit to Lilly’s town campsite, in addition to Lilly, Henk and Pepo, eight Poles, an Englishman and a friendly confused boy of 21. The Poles, drunk, tell how they also lost their sleeping place with their work.

‘There are few normal days,’ Henk grumbles, ‘but who are we to reject people?’ The night before, he kicked a pole down from the ground when he hit his own wife. The Pole has just brought a pot of chrysanthemums with an apology to Lilly. ‘Rather give the flowers to your wife,’ Henk grumbles, which the Pole does well.

Now everyone is taking their waste away because it has to be Lilly, who also closely monitors waste sorting. But you can not control everything. This month, a 31-year-old man overdose here, Lilly tried unsuccessfully to revive him.

Eindhoven municipality has a ‘homeless director’, but he must not explain to me how the direction of the self-owned city campsite is progressing. The press manager only wants to respond in writing: ‘Camping in public spaces is not allowed in Eindhoven.’ Colette heard from Lilly about so many homeless people who have nowhere to go that she does not think her daughter’s city campsite is a bad idea (‘even if it needs to be guarded’).

Shortly after my visit, Lilly suddenly gets a study from the municipality again, where she can stay for free for three months. On Friday, she takes her camping guests there for shelter from the bad weather. “They want to get rid of me,” she says on the phone. “But we’re all going back.”

On Monday, Lilly texted an upset letter from the municipality: Wednesday morning at 10 o’clock they leave her campsite. Lilly will now in court: For a new tomorrow.

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