By Marjorie Nesin
---- — A wanted woman’s arrest led police to break up a group of homeless people staying in the Oak Grove Cemetery off Washington Street Monday afternoon in what police say was one of the many makeshift “camps” officers might expect to see as heat wafts in during the summer season.
Though more people tend to worry about the well-being of the homeless in the winter, the severe summer conditions can also make living outside tough, officials say.
As in years past, some people have resorted to camping out in Gloucester’s parks, public lands and even cemeteries rather than the nonprofit Action Inc. shelter.
Maggie Howard, the shelter’s director of client and housing services, said the shelter fills its 32 open beds and two emergency beds almost every night, forcing employees to turn some homeless people away. Last week, the shelter turned away two people on a couple of nights, but Action has had as many as six people looking for beds after the shelter was filled to capacity on other nights.
“We tell them to try to go stay with a friend or family member, anywhere else they can go to get away from the heat,” Howard said.
While Howard emphasized that not all who categorize themselves as “homeless” in Gloucester stay at the shelter, at least one of the men police asked to leave Oak Grove cemetery Monday morning has listed himself as an Action Inc. resident in court documents in past months.
Though police did not arrest that man Monday when they broke up the group about 10 a.m., he had been arrested in February for repeatedly returning to the Action Inc. shelter after the staff turned him away because of his “disruptive” behavior.
That man and “several” others were sleeping in the rear of the cemetery near the compost pile Monday morning, with “several” open alcohol bottles on the ground nearby, according to a police report.
“This area must have been frequented by the homeless population for some time,” Officer Chris Genovese wrote in the report. “Several beer bottles and cans were thrown about. Human feces was found, along with dirty clothes and trash in the immediate area.”
One woman who was sleeping when police arrived at the cemetery, was transported to Addison Gilbert Hospital by ambulance for a leg injury she had sustained Sunday night. Police returned to the cemetery Monday afternoon, and found the injured woman, Theresa Sarcione, 37, released from the hospital and back at the cemetery.
Officers arrested Sarcione on an active warrant for commercial sex crime charges out of Lowell District Court.
Police checked others at the site for warrants and, finding none, sent them away from the cemetery, warning the group to not return.
Police Chief Leonard Campanello said as the problem continues, police are willing to work with community collaborations to come up with a better solution. And, in the meantime, officers will break up any reported “squatter” sites.
“For us, it’s a response,” Campenallo said. “We’ll obviously continue to enforce the public areas. Anybody squatting so to speak or using public areas without our authorization is presenting a public hazard and we’ll continue to respond to complaints.”
Howard said that not all of Gloucester’s homeless seek a place to stay, whether at the shelter or elsewhere.
“There are people who’ve lived outside for years,” Howard said. “It’s just where they’re more comfortable for one reason or another and they choose not to access the shelter.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.