As about a dozen homeless men and other community members finished stuffing more than 15 large garbage bags full of trash they’d picked up along Silver Creek Trail Thursday, community activist Daniel Eason was grilling up some hot dogs for their lunch.
Eason said he and Sam Buice of Living Water Ministries are hoping the effort to clean up the woods along the Etowah River near First Avenue and Fourth Street will show the Rome City Commission and local law enforcement that many of the homeless do take pride in the community and aren’t the ones responsible for much of the trash in the area.
“We think a lot of this mess was caused by young trouble-makers or just others using the trail system leaving their litter,” said Eason, who has been attending the Homelessness Task Force meetings that formed after “urban camping” and “aggressive panhandling” ordinances were requested by Rome Police.
One 61-year-old man only known as “Red Dog,” who has lived off the Silver Creek Trail for the past four years, said he’s planning on speaking at Monday night’s City Commission meeting when those ordinances go up for their second reading and are possibly voted on by the commission.
“I’m goin’ to tell ’em about the homeless people,” said Red Dog, who used to work in the construction industry and still tries to do odd jobs here and there. “Instead of kicking them out of their homes where they live at, make them clean up around it and take care of it. The homeless people ain’t the bad people. It’s the other people out here pulling us down. These buggies from Kroger are being pushed over the bank by kids, the people who live in the houses nearby. They’re just mean kids.”
Red Dog and Eason tried to convince another man living off the trail named Allen to go to Monday’s commission meeting, too.
The ordinances had been requested by local public safety personnel as a way to better handle rising complaints from residents about the homeless and panhandlers throughout the city and in public parks.
Although the ordinances allow for warnings to be given and for the safe storage of confiscated belongings should someone get arrested — steps not currently dictated — homeless advocates worry the measures will simply cause more homeless people to become displaced.
“I stayed in Chattanooga four or five months and they had a whole street dedicated to the homeless,” said 26-year-old father of six Brian Lindsey, who was excited about a job interview later that day to hang vinyl siding at Dunkin Donuts. “They had a community kitchen there, a health care center and everything. In Rome, the police walk back there all the time and they’ll pull you out of your tent and arrest you for loitering.”
Eason and Buice are hoping commissioners will come up with a better way of dealing with the homeless that doesn’t involve arresting anyone who is not generating complaints from the public.
“Most of the homeless can’t avoid breaking the law if the law says they can’t camp anywhere for free,” Buice said. “Most of them do not want to be a nuisance.”