Two Gloucester Police officers finished clearing makeshift camps built by local homeless around the city Wednesday morning.
Officers Brian Aiello, Chris Genovese and a crew from the Department of Public works cleaned up the sites.
In all, they found three near Babson Reservoir, one behind Nelson’s on Main Street, the other in a corner of the cemetery above the Oval Playground off Centennial Avenue. They didn’t find anyone at most of the sites, however, when they cleared them.
“We have to start cracking down on public intoxication, and things that go along with it,” said Genovese.
Genovese said police cleared the camps to show that officers will come down hard on trespassing and public drunkenness by members of the city’s growing population of transient homeless. Aiello said that demographic has, with greater frequency, been coming down from the woods drunk or borderline drunk, and starts causing trouble downtown.
On Tuesday, Aiello and Genovese found a site behind Nelson’s on Main Street and cleared two people out of it, and told them to tell others not to trespass. The officers also found bottles, beer cans, trash bags and a rocking chair at that site.
In general, police found sites in total disarray, littered with broken bottles, beer cans, syringes and debris from fire pits, and — at one site near Babson Reservoir — a few mattresses.
At another site near the reservoir, Genovese saw logs kicked out of a fire pit. Someone tried to put them out, he said, but during dry conditions that would have caught the woods on fire.
Those sites sat near both the reservoir and the railway. It’s illegal for anyone to camp near a public water supply, Genovese said, while having intoxicated people that close to the commuter rail tracks, said Aiello, isn’t exactly a minor problem, either.
Genovese said he’s not sure how many people used each of the makeshift camps, but they weren’t just being used for shelter. People sleeping in the woods, he said, aren’t the issue; the people that drink up there and stagger back into town, he added, are.
On Saturday, Aiello saw some of that trouble first hand.
At 6 p.m. with the sun still out, Aiello’s five-year-old son came back into the house after going to get something out of a family car on the street near Burnham’s Field. He told Aiello that a strange man was trying to steal his mother’s car. Aiello said he didn’t believe his son until he saw two other officers at the car.
The man, according to reports, had been sitting in the passenger’s seat, rifling through the vehicle. Aiello said police arrested that man, who’d broken into a few other cars that afternoon as well. He was homeless, and from out of town.
“It’s the ones who don’t live here that don’t care (about the city),” said Aiello.
Gloucester’s local homeless listen to officers, and generally stay out of trouble, Aiello added. The out-of-town homeless visitors don’t, Aiello said, and, in his six years on the force, the department is seeing more of those people that ever before.
Aiello said he’s not sure why that homeless demographic is landing in Gloucester, but he said the fact that the Action Inc. shelter on Main Street accepts intoxicated people probably isn’t helping things, Aiello added.
“We’re kind of at the end of the line, so they don’t turn anyone away,” Aiello said.
Neither Ralph Johnson, shelter director, nor Molly Derr, shelter councilor could be reached for comment.
Gloucester’s shelter received city Zoning Board approval to add eight new beds, and has gone to a saved-bed system, with 30 beds set aside for people on the shelter’s “Moving On” program. She shelter also keeps four beds for officials call emergencies.
While police say they’re seeing more problems from Gloucester’s homeless population, however, Fire Department paramedics haven’t seen the same, said Sander Shultz, the Department’s Emergency Medical Services Coordinator.
“We’re not seeing an uptick in incidents in the summer,” he said.
They may in the fall, he said. Shultz said when the weather gets colder folks come out of the woods and paramedics receive more calls regarding them. Usually, they end up transporting intoxicated people to the emergency room.
“It’s a terribly inefficient system,” Shultz said, “if we could provide primary care and housing, it would cost a fraction of what society spends on them.”
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenGDT