(Bridge Night #1, Part 3)
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….
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).
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?