Detained

(Bridge Night #1, Part 3)

Small Change!

It’s amazing how something as simple as a smoke…can change someone’s attitude from rage and aggressive to calm and relaxed.

The night continued….

After meeting my new friends, we searched for Georgia and Jesse. We went under the bridge and could not find them. Cowboy told me that they were most likely sleeping between the two highways (in the center median) where many plants and bushes have been planted along Interstate 10. If the weather is nice…many homeless citizens sleep in between the highways in the bushes.

I called out for Georgia and Jesse and eventually found Jesse in a patch of bushes laying in his sleeping bag. (Georgia was out with his wife….who lives in a shelter near by…) Jesse allowed me to lay my bag in this area…and fall asleep. But first, I had to find something to lay on. After searching the area….I found a piece of flat styrofoam and torn tent material to lay my sleeping bag on so it would remain fairly clean and dry during the night.

I laid down in the bushes, between the highways…about 5 feet from the westbound traffic and a bridge wall. Cars and trucks were passing by constantly. It was loud…but not nearly as painful as the train horns…I could get used to the sound of the cars passing by…it was soothing in a strange way. Despite the location, it was very private. Hopefully, I would be safe from the traffic!

After laying down for a while, Jesse told me he could not sleep…so we walked around together and talked about life. I gave him a smoke. He showed me more places to stay near or under the city bridges….and after a while…we got tired, returned to our spot, and went to sleep.

The ground was hard. I had very little padding. Throughout the night my side or arm would go numb due to the hardness of the ground beneath my body. But for the most part, it was a good night sleep compared to the outdoor shelter. I could sleep as late as I wanted…and not be disturbed by an authority in the morning telling me what to do…

I was wrong.
I would get to know another type of authority that is not the staff at the outdoor shelter.

Around 7:50am…I was awakened by a boot nudging my sleeping bag and a man yelling… “Wake up…everyone up…Wake up…everyone up.”

At first, I thought is was Georgia playing a joke on us. He is known to pull pranks on his friends…but as I looked up…it was not Georgia…but 3 police officers in uniform, shorts, and boots. They were not happy to see us…

“Get up…stand up…let me see some ID,” they asked.

I was tired…and moving slowly. It was slightly confusing…but the cops didn’t care. They wanted us up and moving. I thought it might be a dream….but the cold air made it a reality. He kept telling me to move faster….and I told him “I’m moving as fast as I can…”

I got up…showed my ID to my officer, and he pulled me aside and searched my bag. He did not have a warrant…but all he found was a flashlight, underwear, toothbrush, Bible, and a pack of cigarettes. The bag was “clean.” (except the underwear) But the cop found one more thing….

My iPhone.

The cop asked me why I had an iPhone as I unlocked it and told him I owned it. He was confused. He asked me, “You can afford an iPhone?…..how?”

“I have a job” I said.

“Where do you work?” he questioned me more…

“I work at a local church near downtown…” I responded.

He was shocked and asked me if I was doing this as ministry….I said to him…”I guess you could say that.” Then the cop took my ID and got my SS# and took it to the make shift command under the bridge where the other cop cars were. The cops were a mixture of bicycle cops (the one’s who grabbed us out of the area along the highway) and patrol cars (the one’s gathering info).

Another cop escorted us out of the bushes and made us stand along the wall….in a line….and wait to be called over to the police car (or interviewed by the main officer).

Here is the strange thing that I did not notice the night before….there were more homeless people sleeping in the bushes (near or under the bridge) than I thought— about 30 in my area. (The police raided the entire I-10 stretch that morning…along with some other smaller bridges…many of my friends got detained by the police that morning.) At my spot, it was like the baseball players coming out of the corn fields in the movie Field of Dreams. (Check out the photo.)

We waited by the wall for quite sometime. One by one we were questioned and given a warning for trespassing. Some people in the bushes were in more trouble than others…(drug use, etc.) …although I saw no one arrested and taken away to jail.

Most of my friends gave the cops fake names and SS#’s because they refused to be searched without a warrant. I gave the cops my ID because they saw my wallet in the sleeping bag…and I had little fear of my police record. The cops took your information and placed you on a city list that shows you have been detained and been given a warning for trespassing. (Although there are no signs and information stating this.)

Trespassing is the crime. It does not hold much water in court. However, many of the homeless cannot afford good lawyers to help them fight the vagueness of the ordinance.

I asked an officer “Who owns the bridge?”….and the cop told me….”The State of Texas.”
I thought that was a funny response. I even chuckled at their reasoning of ownership. They also told me “vagrants, the homeless, and bums” cause many problems in this community. It seems so simple….but it’s not. I wanted to tell the cops that their names were actually Georgia, Jesse, Blake, William, Robert, Jackson, Bolton, and Samantha….but I use the same language too. We all do. Dang you, hypocrisy!

Nevertheless, it begs us to question this idea: When we talk about “issues of the streets”….we are talking about problems beyond just homelessness…there are gangs, basic criminals, mailmen, and teenagers on that list too. Most of these citizens have actual homes. They are not always homeless…But who takes most of the heat?

Most of these homeless are just trying to find a place to sleep…with freedom.

They pulled me aside and asked me more about where I lived….(They saw on my ID that I lived only a few blocks away). I don’t know if they believed it…but I was not too concerned about what they thought. I was telling the truth.

After they put me on the “black list,” I was told to pack my things and walk back to the outdoor shelter that is run by the city. I began to wonder…”Was that the main reason for the raid….to get us back in the shelter? Where they can control our actions?

It’s a complex issue.

The cops were tough…but they had grace. Nobody got into too much trouble. (Nevertheless, many of my homeless friends have a much stronger opinion about the matter.) They have good points…but I am still discerning the event that took place Tuesday morning by the I-10 bridge.

If there is a next time…I will be arrested or given a ticket and made to go to court.

Now, off to church…as a pastor working in the same neighborhood where the bridge exists.
End of first night under the bridge.

(This issue has been hard to write about…and has taken me a week to put down on paper. And I will most likely make adaptations to it throughout the next few days. This problem of homelessness in cities is multifaceted… Both sides of the argument have good points.

Position A. Homelessness is annoying, unclean, and possibly dangerous. It leads to other civil problems and creates issues for local businesses and tourism. It is not a good “image” for the city. It also is attached to drugs, alcohol, and sex….(but so is High School…but we still have that!)

Position B. Making homelessness a crime on public land goes against basic freedom and liberty. It can be unlawfully inforced and people can be prosecuted with no means to hire good lawyers.

Position C. Is there a more creative way to use the Gospel to handle both A & B?

Questions….please don’t be afraid to post your opinion…. I won’t get my feelings hurt!

I want to hear from YOU! So comment now!!!!!

Main Qurstion ***Why do you think many of the homeless choose to live under bridges or in other places around the city streets?***

1. What do you think of the trespassing law….and how Texas is the “owner” of the land?
2. Why do you think the police are enforcing the “law?” Should they in this way?
3. Why do the police wait until the morning to detain the homeless vs the night before?
4. How has homelessness affected your neighborhood, place of business, and church?
5. Can the police search my bag without a warrent?
6. How do we often direct and control “vagrancy” in our cities?
7. Do you believe the city creates stricter laws if there are non-profits in the city (that reach out to homeless) so they can advance their agenda of redirecting homeless behavior?

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4 thoughts on “Detained

  1. Hey kiddo,
    Finally reading your blog (sorry it took me so long). What an amazing journey and ministry you’re on. But you’re not just serving San Antonion’s homeless, you’re helping the rest of the public (those of us fortunate to sleep in warm beds tonight) understand a misunderstood population and injustices that exisit in our government and judicial systems. These children of God are blessed to have you as their voice. You’re a powerful writer and lend so much autheticity to their story.

    Bless you bless you bless you. Come to Atlanta when your 40 days are over! 🙂

  2. 1) The trespassing law is vague, but it comes down to a quality of life issue for most cities. Trespassing laws vary city to city, and are usually enforced by a city ordinance. The basis is, the city doesnt want people sleeping any where they choose due to the fact that it tends to push away visitors, business patrons etc, depending on location.
    2) Most of the enforcement action taken by law enforcement in regards to homeless camps and so on are usually based on citizen complaints brought before their respective councilman or repeated complaints to law enforcement.
    3) As to why the police wait til morning is more of an Officer safety issue. Since sweeps like that are generally planned in advance they like to create situation where Officers have the advantage of broad daylight to see any possible threats. Night time creats many Officer safety issues purely because the field of vision is so greatly diminshed.
    4) Not really, but in my previous career in law enforcement, I did deal with the homeless on regular basis in good and bad situations.
    5) This issue is somewhat of a gray area, but without being there I will say “no.” The 4th amendment states any search without a warrant or probable cause is deemed unreasonable and not valid in court. Now for the officers sake they could argue various points like officer safety, making sure their was not a weapon to harm them in it etc, but based on the situation you described the search was probably not reasonable and would be a defense in court for you had something come of it( doubting this would happen).
    6) This is a tough project with which there is no easy answer. Cities build homeless shelters that are utilized, but you still have some that choose not utilize the shelter for various reasons as I’m sure you learned, drug use, alchoholism, etc. Things that most shelters wont let the people inside if they are under the influence of.
    7) LOL….the city loves non-profit groups that provide homeless assistance because it means the city doesnt have to extend that many more resources to assist the homeless. Many cities provide the bare minimum in the way of homeless support. Most of the programs aimed at aiding the homeless do tend to be non-profit organizations that provide healthcare, job training, substance abuse treatment etc. For a city to take on the problem alone would be too cost prohibitive, hence they rely so heavily on churches, outreach centers and other non-profits to aid in handling the problem, and frankly most non-profits do a better job then the city ever would and tend to have people that genuinely care about helping out the plight of the homeless.

    Enjoy reading this blog Gavin, hope you stay safe and pass on all you have learned from this endeavour.

  3. I am really enjoying your blog.
    I have learned a lot from it.
    City officials verses the homeless is a very hard topic. I think that because the city clearly has more advantages they should be more accommodating and helpful. I am so thankful that the police officers were graceful, more times than not they can be very aggressive and stereotypical of mental illness and drug abuse in homeless people (or anyone, profiling is very real and prevalent)

    1. What do you think of the trespassing law….and how Texas is the “owner” of the land?
    I think its funny that Texas is the owner of the land. Doesn’t that mean that as Texas residents they own the land too? particularly if they happen to buy anything in Texas meaning they pay taxes and therefore pay for that land.

    2. Why do you think the police are enforcing the “law?” Should they in this way?
    i would think that the officers might have something better to do then mess with a bunch of homeless people on the side of a highway. Who could they be hurting? if there is privacy then they can’t be all that visible. So what if people driving on I10 can see them. they are not blocking business fronts or hurting anyone. if they want it to look more touristy they should provide more services that are not as demanding as shelters and provide more freedom of movement (a basic human right).

    5. Can the police search my bag without a warrent?
    This makes me pretty angry. I think they are clearly taking advantage of those that cannot afford a lawyer. They know that there will not be a case against this, so they choose to search the bag unlawfully. It is unacceptable. They won’t let people sleep on public land but they can violate the law and search your bag with no reasonable cause.

    7. Do you believe the city exploits non-profits in our city (that reach out to homeless) so they can advance their agenda of redirecting homeless behavior?
    why wouldn’t they? The state provides funding to these ngo’s so i don’t know why its a bad thing either.

    If there was clear danger or problem in the area i could understand this type of raid, but some people sleeping in bushes is not a reason to spend tax dollar money on sending multiple officers to check bags illegally and direct people to a shelter. There are better things to do like stop people who are clearly hurting others, the “man”power should be used to stop rapists and other menaces to society. or maybe even use that money to support a shelter or provide other resources to the individuals in the area.
    Another thing that bothers me about the justice system is arresting or fining people with substance abuse problems. the money spent on keeping them in jail could easily be used to provide counseling and recovery programs for them. Rehab is a much better suited place then jail.

    There are instances where the homeless can provide problems for the state, i am not saying the state is always wrong, but they definitely could handle these problems better, with little research and less money then they are spending now. i’m sure there are some great ideas out there for new programs to deal with theses problems in a way that is more humane and respectful of the human beings that do not have homes.

  4. I commend you!
    As for the whole issue of where people sleep. I have never understood this. How can you tell someone they can’t be somewhere. I feel this is so dehumanizing. It just makes no sense. It’s like saying your not allowed to breathe air. I’m sorry person but because you don’t fit into our societies standards you are not allowed to occupy space. We need to find a better way. We need to find a way to break this cycle.
    On a side note. I have been struggling with pittying those less fortunate than me. These are Gods people too no greater or smaller than I we our all equal in His eyes, and quite frankly that is the only thing I should really care about.

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