WALKER, Miich. (WOOD) - It's not the nicest home at "North Camp" -- a settlement of homeless shanties that has grown in recent years.
That honor goes to Cookie's place, just down the way. But Gary Owczarzak and Cookie still live on the same side of the tracks.
"He's got a mailbox down there," said Gary Owczarzak, a resident of this homeless camp in the city of Walker.
He's pointing down the railroad tracks, toward the home of a homeless man known as Cookie.
"He's got a nice place down there. I mean, you're talking a chalet-type set-up."
Target 8 examines West Michigan's homeless camps, and how cities are struggling to deal with them, Thursday on 24 Hour News 8 at 5.
Photos: Hidden homeless camps in West Michigan
Still, Owczarzak, 53, has something nobody else has at North Camp -- a sink. No running water, but a sink.
The plumbing that runs from the sink and out the back of his home is wrapped with fabric, so it doesn't freeze in the winter.
"Something to wash up with," he said.
The railroad allows him and his neighbors to get water from a spigot down the tracks.
"If it wasn't for that, I don't think anybody would be here."
Owczarzak and his brother built this place a year ago -- part of a recent growth spurt. Cookie built his place last fall; just a week or so ago, another man was building a 10-by-10-foot home out of two-by-fours.
"Everything you see here is made out of skids, found stuff, windows and everything," Owczarzak said of his home. "Even these doors."
He and his brother were out-of-work and homeless. Now, they not only have a sink, but they have a back fire escape door, a privacy wall, and the neighborhood's biggest outhouse. They also have battery-powered lights.
"These are them little lights that you see around your walkway at night," he said. "They work great. I mean, it's not real bright, but it's enough to read a magazine or be able to not knock anything over."
The lights are connected by small white wires that criss-cross the ceiling. He's fashioned four of the lights into a home-made chandelier.
Owczarzak said he worked for 23 years as a mig welder, but lost that job a few years back. He's got a criminal record, but nothing major.
Back here, he has no bills, no property taxes.
"If you wanna save money, and really get it together, you can do that back here," he said. "Nobody bothers you. It's pretty peaceful."
He survives on his welfare bridge card and by selling scrap metal
His home has one other convenience. A clock in a tree.
"It makes you feel part of the world, at least knowing what time it is."
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