Despite threats of arrest, homeless campers in three wooded areas north of downtown Mobile will likely not have vacated the premises by the May 6 deadline police set last month, as city officials work to make sure their removal is conducted humanely.
Since the order to leave was given in early April, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said volunteers from several organizations have been working with the roughly 28 individuals that have come to call the space home to help identify what it would take to find housing for them in another area.
Though some have already left the encampments with assistance, city officials held a lengthy meeting with police and volunteer organizations May 4 to get a progress report on the situation.
“What we’ve come to realize is that each of these people that are out there is a unique individual, with a unique set of circumstances that have caused them to be there, and also that each one of them really needs a unique set of services,” Stimpson said. “These are human beings that need the collaborative efforts of our community to put them on a (better) — not only have place to live, but there’s some that could find gainful employment as we find ways to get them birth certificates, driver’s licenses and these sorts of things.”
Assisting the process are groups like Delta Dogs, Wings of LIfe, Delta Bike Project, McKemie Place, Housing first, Salvation Army, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, Walker Brothers. Waterfront Mission and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs — all of which were represented at Wednesday’s meeting.
Stimpson thanked each of the groups for their assistance in addressing a problem that threatens “public health, public safety and the environment.”
“Our main concern is that the individuals who reside in these encampments are treated with respect, with compassion and with sensitivity to the circumstances,” Salvation Army Commander Maj. Mark Brown said. “There’s a number of veterans and we want to ensure they are treated right.”
Brown said finding affordable housing is one of the challenges in the Mobile area, and said he was hopeful the volunteer groups’ involvement could start a dialog with the city about ways to to prevent chronic homelessness through early intervention.As for the May 6 ultimatum, Stimpson said it was included in the process as “a marker” that gave everyone a date towards. There are no plans to arrest anyone for trespassing, and as Friday arrives, Stimpson said the city’s approach wouldn’t change.
“It’ll be the same thing that’s happened the last 30 days,” he said. “We’ll continue to go out and assess the individuals, and if some are ready to be moved out, we’re hoping they’ll take us up on the offer to be relocated.”
Mobile Police Chief James Barber elaborated, saying anyone cooperating with police and trying to be in compliance would not be arrested.
“We have to find a way to respect the individual rights of the property owners these camps are located on, but we also have to have the compassion to find a solution to this issue and not just move it around the city,” Barber said. “We know we can’t arrest problem away because they’ll get right of a jail and we’ll have the same problem. That’s why we look at this partnership with these service providers as incredibly important in any long-term solution to some of the homelessness in our city.”
Of the 28 individuals at the encampments currently, Barber said the vast majority have been cooperative, adding they “maybe have already been successfully relocated.” However, he said others had specific challenges that made them “very difficult” to find housing for — specifically those with criminal backgrounds and convicted sex offenders.
“Those with sex offender records, we cannot place in some of the shelters we have available to us,” Barber said. “That’s absolutely still a challenge, so we have to find an alternative solution that.”
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