Huntsville police clean up homeless camp along busy underpass

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Police had a big mess to clean up on Friday and you likely drove right over it. Officers were out clearing trash and debris from the University and Sparkman Drive underpass, where many homeless people gather.

Police say after two days of freezing temps, they want every homeless person in Huntsville to come in from the cold.

"If we have a lot of these camps around open areas around town, the property ends up being devalued very quickly," Lt. Michael Johnson said.

Cleaning up piles of trash and debris from the underpass, police and code enforcement workers were hauling away the rubbish left by homeless campers.

"They know why we're there. They know these officers by name," Lt. Johnson said. "They know they're there to help them. They know how to reach out to them at the precincts."

Lt. Johnson says cleaning up the underpass is more than just a way to get the homeless people to move along. It's also about directing them to places that can help. Downtown Rescue Mission director Keith Overholt says even though many homeless people know where to find the rescue mission, many won't come.

"There are some folks out there, they won't go anywhere where there's rules or regulations," Overholt said. "Some of it has to do with 40 percent of our population are mentally ill."

As the sun set in Huntsville and dinner time neared, several men showed up at the rescue mission on Evangel Drive to warm up and find a bed for the night.

"If we had 500 show up, we'd make sure they had a place to stay," Overholt said. "But we're averaging around 310, 315 people a night. But we've had nights with as many as 340 people."

Huntsville police aren't sure how many people were sleeping under the bridge before Friday's clean up. Overholt is hoping all of them will find their way to the mission to get back on their feet.

If you see an area where it looks like homeless people are sleeping, police want to know about it.

Overholt says if you see a homeless person looking for a place to stay, the rescue mission will give that person a ride to the shelter. You can find out more info about their programs here.

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