by Cheryl Mattix: THE CECIL WHIG; 8/24/2006

       Carla Reeves, an advocate for the homeless, is angry about Elkton’s latest attempt to move its growing homeless population out of town.  “They came this morning and pushed all their belongings into a pile, loaded it on a truck and took it to the dump,” she said.

       About 7 a.m., crews from Elkton’s Department of Public Works showed up behind the strip of businesses on South Bridge Street that includes Pat’s Pizza.  They spent the next five hours clearing out tents, mattresses, clothes and other items set up as temporary housing for several homeless men.

      Elkton Mayor Joseph Fisona and Police Chief William Ryan told the Whig they were unaware of any attempt to clear out a homeless enclave Wednesday.  But Director of Public Works Joseph Enrico said his department was ordered by the police department to remove the debris behind the businesses on that section of Bridge Street.  “I didn’t go myself, but I directed my assistant to send a crew out there when his shift starts at 6 a.m.,” Enrico said.

       Enrico got the order from a message from the police department.  “I didn’t think anything of it because we’ve done this kind of thing before.  I figure it’s routine,” he said.  He said over the past couple of years he’s been ordered to clear out similar spots behind the Acme, Marina Plaza and near the gazebo in Eder Park.

       Reeves, who volunteers to help the homeless, said she has two tents and a grill to give the men who lost everything so they can set themselves up again.  She vows to report the incident to the American Civil Liberties Union.  “Even if they are on someone’s property, they should have been given time to gather up their personal possessions,” Reeves contends.

       Ronston Roberts, 36, has been homeless “off and on” for two years.  He and another homeless man were tipped off that something was going to happen Wednesday morning in the area they share with six to eight others who sleep behind the businesses on Bridge Street.  “I grabbed some food, clothes and personal hygiene items and threw them in a backpack and hid it in some bushes away from the tent,” Roberts said.

       When Roberts and his friend attempted to retrieve the backpack, he said police told him not to touch it or he’d be charged with littering, which could mean up to two years in jail and a $2,000 fine. “We backed off,” he said.

       An employee of the Laundromat, who did not want to be identified, said she empathizes with the homeless men.  “The answer is not to persecute these people,” she said.  “They need help.”

       James Hill, who has been homeless off and on for several years, has most recently been living under the twin bridges on Route 40.  “About a week ago, my stuff was set on fire and I lost everything,” he said.

       Elkton Town Commissioner C. Gary Storke feels sorry for the homeless, but wants to see them leave Elkton.  “I don’t think it’s the towns responsibility to give them a place to live,” Storke said. “What are they doing to help themselves?”

       Storke doesn’t want to see the downtown become a gathering place for homeless and prostitutes.  “I’m tired of hearing about prostitutes and homeless persons approaching our citizens on the street,” he said.

       Mary Jo Jablonski, who works closely with the business community in her job as Main Street Coordinator and also serves on the town board, has seen an influx of newer homeless faces in town. “It’s not the same group we had before,” she said.  “I’ve heard some complaints about pan-handling and drinking in public.”

       Even some of the homeless who have been around town for awhile agree there are some “out of state” people showing up and causing trouble.  “We don’t hurt anyone,” said Christopher Brown, 40, a former concrete worker who is on disability.  His last job was about a year ago.  “I’m worried if this is in the newspaper, they’ll really come down on us,” he said.

       A couple of the other homeless men said they have carpentry and welding skills, but have trouble finding a job.  “It’s hard to find a job when you don’t have a roof over your head,” Roberts said. Several of the homeless men claim the police harass them every day.  “They go out of their way to pick on us,” one man said.

       Reeves would like to see the town find grant money to create a facility to house these men, instead of spending police time and money to drive them out of town.  “I’d really like to know who ordered this,” she said.

       The only men’s shelter in Elkton is the Settlement House on Main Street across from the post office.  It has a waiting list of 53, according to some of the homeless men who lost their belongings Wednesday.  Several of them are on the waiting list.