When our NightWatch team visited the Murrow bridges Friday night, they were clean. No sleeping bags, no clothes, nothing. We knew the cops must have been by. Some of our homeless friends had been sleeping there just the week before. In past winters, there were people under all three bridges on Murrow. I remember one weekend when we found 11 men sleeping there. Some of them had some fairly elaborate set-ups, as outside accommodations go.
But as the temperature warms up, the presence of the homeless folks coming and going from the bridges becomes more noticeable, as does the overpowering odor of urine that hangs in the air. Breezes carry the acrid scent up to the homes in a recently redeveloped downtown neighborhood, just yards from one of the bridges.
Police officers from community resource teams go to the bridges and give the homeless folks notice that they have to move out. The officers give them some time to find another campsite and move their things. Cops come back in another couple of days and make sure that the bridge has been cleared out. (I think that the homeless people could be charged with trespassing if they stayed.)
I struggle with the bridge clean-ups. I understand why the police officers are being sent to move the homeless people, and I know they’re just doing their jobs, but our homeless friends are running out of places to sleep. (They’ve started sleeping in the parking lot of the homeless shelter.) But I am thankful that we have officers who give our homeless friends a chance to move their possessions.
Last year, a young homeless woman lost all of her belongings when they were thrown from the top of a bridge into a rain-swollen culvert below, shortly after “her” bridge was visited by some patrol officers and she fled to avoid them. So she didn’t see who dumped the stuff. The same thing happened the next day while she was at work.
Homeless people who sleep outside have a hard time retaining their possessions, so having police officers who will allow them a chance to move their things rather than just kicking them out is a small but very important kindness.