Homelessness can sometimes be an issue which can fall into the hands of law enforcement. Police and sheriff’s officials try to help when they can.
Sometimes, those who are less fortunate suffer from mental health issues leading to homelessness. Others are just down on their luck.
Some can be seen panhandling in areas of the city, where the concentration of homeless tend to gather.
One area in particular is near 25th Street and the entrance ramp to Interstate 75.
The area is a “gateway” to the city and as homeless roam from other areas, they will find areas such as this to set up camp, according to officials.
“There are no laws outlining homelessness per se, due to the fact that usually, homeless individuals are adults. The laws that are violated by homelessness are basically littering and trespassing,” said Evie West, Cleveland Police Department’s information officer.
“Police respond to areas where complaints are made regarding homeless. At times, officers advise homeless individuals where the local shelters and churches are who minister to homeless,” West said.
An officer can make a preliminary assessment of the person and then make suggestions along with input from a supervisor.
“Police are compassionate. And I have observed many officers provide food, clothing or blankets to those in need,” West said.
Typically, most homeless are directed to a temporary housing and aid station such as the Bradley County Emergency Shelter located on Wildwood Avenue.
The shelter has been in operation for several decades.
It is a resource for not only temporary refuge, but helping people get back on their feet by providing a number of services.
Officials assign case managers to individuals or families who may be in need.
Family Promise is also a resource for those in need and utilizes volunteers to aid families.
Bradley-Cleveland Community Services Agency is also a resource.
West said it is especially tough when children are caught up in the homeless environment and other measures could be taken which hinge on their welfare.
Some could be considered runaways.
“If police run across a homeless individual who is a minor, Department of Children Services will be notified and respond to take custody of the child,” West explained.
A number of dangerous or destructive situations can arise when the homeless are subjected to extreme weather such as rain or frigid temperatures.
Investigators with Cleveland Fire Department believed homeless people who could not be received at the local emergency shelter started a fire to stay warm and get out of the weather in the former site of the Cleveland Chair Company.
“The old building was a frequent destination for homeless residents escaping the weather and cold nights,” according to Donnie Sullivan, who was the lead investigator for Cleveland Fire Department at the time.
The massive, multistory building burned for several days.
The oil-soaked wood caught fire, which destroyed the century-old structure.
Reports indicated the fire was just one of the dangers.
Firefighters also faced danger during and after the blaze.
Brick walls collapsed as the fire raged, and continue to fall as investigators scoured through the remains to find the inferno’s cause and origin.
Other structures in the downtown area have also been a homeless squatters’ safe haven in times of inclement weather.
The buildings and even outdoor encampments frequented by the homeless can present unsanitary conditions.
“Wherever homeless set up camp, there is always a lot of trash around, hence littering. That is a misdemeanor. It is not only a violation of the Tennessee Code Annotated but a violation of city code ordinances as well,” West said.
For those in need of help or refuge, contact the Bradley County Emergency Shelter at 478-1458, or Family Promise at 650-4106.