Many locals are continuing to respond to a viral image of Mobile police officers seemingly mocking the homeless by making efforts to help some of the Port City’s most vulnerable citizens as well as the organizations that support them.
As Lagniappe reported, two officers from the Mobile Police Department (MPD) drew national criticism last week for a social media post that showed them holding a self-described “homeless quilt” made from signs confiscated from arrested panhandlers — some of which said things like “hungry and homeless.”
Part of the post’s caption read, “Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt. Sincerely, Panhandler patrol.”
The reaction online was swift, as commenters from around the country bombarded MPD’s Facebook page. Many directed their outrage toward the entire department as well as the city itself, despite prompt apologies issued by MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste and Mayor Sandy Stimpson.
So far, the MPD has not announced any disciplinary action against the two officers seen in the photo, Preston McGraw and Alexandre Olivier. However, a department spokesperson did say “when officers display inappropriate conduct such as this, corrective action is taken.”
The negative light the sudden national attention cast on Mobile was not lost on locals — many of whom expressed similar frustrations about the officers’ original post. Since then, some have been organizing ways to raise money and get necessities to those battling homelessness in the community.
One group, Quilts for Mobile, popped up almost immediately after the offending post began to go viral with an effort to collect donated quilts, blankets and jackets as well as unused socks, underwear and toiletries for the homeless. Donations are currently being accepted through Jan. 13 at The Merry Widow, Alabama Music Box, The Blind Mule and at both Housing First Inc. locations.
Local musician and folk artist Abraham Partridge also felt compelled to respond to the controversy with a piece of art that quickly generated a lot of interest online. The painting, which is done in Partridge’s signature style, recreates the image of the officers and their “homeless quilt,” but with a few changes.
The word “shame” is seen above each officer’s head and scrawled near the bottom of the frame is a reference to Matthew 8:20, which reads: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Though he was upset by the post, Partridge said his painting isn’t “anti-police.”
“I paint. I paint pretty stuff and ugly stuff. [This] was horrible and ugly and I couldn’t resist painting it,” Patridge wrote in a Facebook post. “I’ve never been homeless, but I have been poor — just a broken leg or a car accident from not being able to afford housing. I can only imagine the horrors that these people face.”
Partridge said he plans to sell the painting to the highest bidder and give the proceeds to the local homeless shelter, McKemie Place. As of Jan. 5, the bids were up to $1,100. He is also working to make prints, which he plans to sell to raise money for the same cause. More information is available at facebook.com/AbePartridgeFolkArt and abepartridge.com.
Speaking to Lagniappe, Housing First CEO Derek Boulware said the viral post, while “unfortunate,” has actually brought a somewhat unprecedented level of attention to homlessness in the area.
“There really are a lot of positives that have come from it and, if nothing else, it has allowed the community to hear about resources and organizations like Housing First that are here to help the homeless,” he said. “We’ve had volunteers sign up because of it. It’s brought the right kind of attention and given people an opportunity to contribute in ways they may not have known they could before.”
The timing of the viral post couldn’t have been more perfect for Housing First, though, as January is a crucial month for the organization and includes some of its most important events of the year. Boulware said several volunteers have already signed up to assist with the annual Point in Time Count Jan. 28.
That annual process aims to document as accurately as possible the number of homeless people living in a certain area. It’s something that has to be done and submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) every year and is often used to determine how federal funds are distributed.
Housing First will also be hosting its annual Project Homeless Connect event from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 31 at the The Grounds at 1035 Cody Road N. There, volunteers are able to consolidate a plethora of vital services into one centralized location by bringing together multiple organizations that can help homeless people struggling to meet various mental, medical, legal, employment and housing needs.
Boulware also noted Housing First has maintained “good relationships” with the city and MPD for years and regularly works closely with both of them. While he didn’t care for the tone of the post, he doesn’t believe it represents how MPD or local officials feel about the homeless in the Port City.
“I think it was an isolated situation and wasn’t indicative of the police department as a whole, nor was it an example of the relationship that we have with the mayor’s office,” Boulware said. “I’m sure the [officers] involved regret they made that decision, and I’m sure most police officers across Mobile feel the same way. They really, for the most part, want to help these folks who are out on the streets.”
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