A big mess is when the homeless want to stay homeless

When law enforcement finished clearing the homeless camp on Auburn Road earlier this week, they drove away with two full dumptrucks.

Back in 1990, a film called Pacific Heights graced local theaters. It’s a tale, set in San Francisco, where an unmarried couple, Drake Goodman (Matthew Modine) and Patty Palmer (Melanie Griffith), purchase an expensive 19th-century polychrome house in the exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood. There plan is to pay off their debt by renting rooms.

One of their tenants becomes Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton) who gradually tears up the apartment, infests it with cockroaches and refuses to leave. Drake attempts to put an end to the constant noise and drive out Hayes by cutting the electricity and heat to the apartment, but Hayes summons the police, who side with Hayes and reprimand Drake.

If you regularly read the crime reports (page 3A) you’ll usually find where someone has allowed a relative, friend or sometimes someone they don’t know to live with them (for a while). When the home owner tires of the arrangement, they ask the guest to leave, the guest refuses and the owner finds they have to go before a Justice Court Judge to get an eviction started. They quickly find out their act of kindness has turned into a big mess.

It can be even worse in a community where a bunch of homeless people set up a tent city as residents of the Auburn Community have discovered.

“There were anywhere between 20 to 50 people rambling around, during the day and all hours of the night. They set up their own town in abandoned buildings, trailers, which have tax liens - no one was monitoring this property and it’s private property, so our hands were tied as to what we could and could not do,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson. “I can’t tell you how many arrests we’ve made from that area — drugs, outstanding warrants and trespassing.

“These people come into jail, can’t pay their fines, get out of jail and go right back out there.”

The problems, most likely, began when a low-income apartment building, located in the immediate area of this tent city, shut down. About 200 people lived there.

“These non-monitored, no regulation apartments became the breeding ground for what we’re dealing with today. These apartments, basically, became drug infested and a place for criminals to hang out,” Johnson said. “Eventually, about a year ago, the government came in and shut it down, because of unsafe water and other health hazards.”

Some of the people left but some stayed taking refuse in the remaining abandoned buildings and constructing a tent city. The big mess spread covering two sections of land, about four acres, near County Road 931 and County Road 1438. Law enforcement can’t just go onto private property without permission from the owners (unless a felony has been committed). Finally a couple of homeowners gave permission to come in remove the individuals who remained for trespassing and tear down the tent city.

The sheriff’s department went out a week prior to the eviction and stuck notes on the tents explaining what was about to happen. When deputies started to gather up the tents, there was no one in them, but a couple people did wander in out of the woods. Two were arrested.

“Yesterday we removed this guy from sleeping beside a fitness business, in the woods where he’d made himself a pallet on the ground. I asked him, ‘Have you been to the Salvation Army?’ He said, ‘I’m not going there.’ The Salvation Army has rules and regulations the homeless have to follow,” Johnson said. “So I asked, ‘When’s the last time you had a job?’ and he said he worked at the landfill. I said, ‘Why aren’t you working now?’ He said, ‘I don’t want to work.’ Those were his exact words. We took a meth pipe off him. “So then I asked ‘can you pass a drug test?’ and he said, ‘probably not.’ He said he’d fail it because of using meth. So he’s not working ... so where’s he getting the money to get the meth? He’s stealing. I’m telling you what he’s doing.”

The sheriff’s department gathered up pressure washers, car parts, tools, chains, sockets, tool boxes, expensive mechanical lights, commercial extension cords, weedeaters and a 16-foot tandem axle trailer.

“These people choose to live this way, like animals,” the clearly frustrated sheriff said. “It’s a sad, sad, sad situation. Family and children’s services have already intervened and took the kids away from these people because children can’t live in these conditions.

“You know me. You know I’m very passionate about people. I have helped numerous people to get on their feet. But each individual has to help themselves, have some self-motivation, get back on their feet and not just look for a handout.”

The sheriff’s department hauled off two dumptrucks full of tents. They also gathered all the stolen property and took it back to the office, but most of the items are in bad shape because they’ve been out in the weather.

Law enforcement will continue to monitor the situation and patrol the area.

“It’s just frustrating. A lot of these people have drug problems. They know about the rehab places but they don’t want to go,” Johnson said. “Ninety-percent of Auburn is good-hearted, honest hard-working folks and it’s a great community. It’s a beautiful place out there.”

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