More than a a dozen people on private property behind Hamilton Plaza on Dixie Highway have been given citations or arrested for trespassing and other violations since the Sept. 30 deadline to vacate the homeless tent camp, according to Police Chief Craig Bucheit.
“What I can tell you is we have and will continue to monitor that area and people who are found there trespassing will be arrested, cited or dealt with and that includes anybody,” Bucheit said, adding there was no planed mass action set for today.
The chief said the police department cannot post an officer on the property indefinitely, “but want I can tell you is we have been to the camp since the first of the month, since Sept. 30, and in that time we have arrested and cited over a dozen people.”
At the property owner’s request, the police department continues to check for trespassers, according to Bucheit.
“We have been working with several private property owners who have been very clear the don’t want people on their property without their permission,” Bucheit said.
The chief estimated in a seven-day period, officers have been to the property six times.
“The challenge is it is a large area, it is a secluded area, so despite the signs that have been posted and the warnings that have been given, people still there in the property persist and so do our efforts and those efforts have resulted thus far in over a dozen arrests and citations,” Bucheit said.
He added the police are working with the property owners who are effected to replace fencing and remediate the area to discourage the trespassing activity.
People who remained Sunday at the edge of woods near CSX railroad tracks behind the plaza said they didn’t know where they would go. They lamented they may lose some of their possessions if equipment is used to clear the area.
Resident John Thomas, 44, of Hamilton, said he and several others in a group he was preparing to leave with would depart “(Sunday), best we can, with what we got, and what we can get out with.”
“It’s kind of hard, when you ain’t got no cars, vehicles, trucks,” he said, as he adjusted an already filled small cart he planned to pull behind a bicycle. “We’ll do the best we can.”
“You got an empty garage or basement?” he asked with a smile. “You want some roommates?”
“We have no choice” but to leave, said a 58-year-old woman sitting with another small group at the edge of the parking lot on the opposite side of the train tracks from the camp. “We don’t know (where).”
She said she and others attended a recent resources fair offered by the police and social-service agencies.
“Everything we filled out,” she said. “Well, there’s a waiting list a mile long, right?”
Homeless shelters weren’t an option Thomas wanted to use, he said.
“They’ve got shelters and stuff like that, but we’ve been to those; they ain’t all that,” Thomas said. “We’d rather be on our own than a situation like that because their rules. They treat you like little kids down there.”
Thomas said living in the camp “was all right until things got out of hand with the younger generation coming in and doing their drugs, trying to do the heroin thing here. That caused a lot of problems.”
Todd Heart, 50, originally from Florida, who said he has lived in the camp since the spring, said, “We’re pretty much on our own. We’re losing everything.”
He recently broke his hand, but it’s healing, and said he hopes to start a job as a machine operator this week.
“People of Hamilton, the way we’re treated, we’re a filthy society,” Heart said. “We’re unclean. ‘Get rid of them people.’ That’s the way they look at us. They don’t know us. How can they judge us? We’re the ones that struggle. Live in our shoes, then judge us. They think it’s easy living up here, no water? We have to pack our water. We have to get our own food. It ain’t easy. We have to fight the elements.”
Churches and other agencies have been helping, providing food and other assistance. During the mid-afternoon Sunday, one church blasted air horns and yelled, “Come on and get your food.” The air horns were necessary because the aid people were banned from parking near the encampment.
This article contains previous reporting by staff writer Mike Rutledge.