Alfredo Pacheco, 60, a native of Cuba, was charged with murder by the Hudson County Prosecutor's office shortly after coming into the Union City Police downtown mini-precinct shortly before 2 p.m. and, according to Hudson County Prosecutor Ed DeFazio, "making statements related to the homicide." The Union City Police handed the case over to the Hudson County Prosecutor's office, as is standard operating procedure in all suspected homicide investigations.
Pacheco is accused of killing Angel Barbosa, 34, with a knife to the neck. According to DeFazio, the two homeless men had quarreled over a battery-powered television set that apparently belonged to Pacheco. According to DeFazio, "After the initial argument was over, we allege that Mr. Pacheco came back and stabbed Mr. Barbosa once in the throat. Mr. Barbosa subsequently bled to death." DeFazio added that when police arrived to the crime scene, the victim was dead. The police discovered what is alleged to be the murder weapon, a knife "shoved into a tree stump."
A local daily newspaper quoted Barbosa's sister, Noemi Martinez, 32 as saying, "He was a good boy aside from the fact that he took the road of drinking." Martinez told the paper that the victim had been living in her home until he left a month ago.
This is the second homicide on "the hill" in a year's time. On November 10, 2002 an unidentified homeless man was slain in the hill area. Homeless resident Nellie Rodriguez, 44, was charged with the homicide.
At the time, Union City officials refused to call the killing a "homeless homicide," but certainly, last week's slaying has shed more light on this part of town, which is filled with homemade shanties.
Union City officials have apparently had enough of the situation.
According to Union City Police Captain Brian Barrett, "We feel that the time is right now with the springtime here... we went down with the health department, the building department, the Palisades Emergency Residence Corporation and we are treating it as unsanitary, unsafe and unhealthy. The Department of Public Works will be removing the structures."
Said Barrett, "We are going to have officers down there everyday on patrol to keep them [the structures] from popping up again."
Where will the homeless go?
Many residents of the Palisades have built makeshift structures that offer a modicum of protection from the elements. These structures and the some of the people that reside in them have been profiled in recent Reporter articles (see www.unioncityreporter.com). And while the structures certainly demonstrate an amazing adaptability amongst the homeless population, the existence of the "shantytown" has been a constant thorn in the side of Union City's powers that be. During Raul "Rudy" Garcia's tenure as mayor, members of the health department and the fire departments went down to the cliffs and basically tore them down. This, according to many homeless residents, left a permanent bitter taste towards the police and the Union City government.
This winter, Union City officials were concerned again for the residents because of the freezing temperatures. At one point, police combing the hills this year found a man outside who was barely conscious and took him to the hospital, where he recovered.
Officials are taking a much more humane approach to the removal process. According to Union City spokesperson Gayle Kaufman, "They won't be going down there with bulldozers, but they will be evicted. The residents really need to start thinking about moving."
According to Capt. Barrett, "What I'd like to see is a slow, deliberate dismantling of the uninhabited structures. I'd like to see a 'measured' move towards this. No 'storm trooper' tactics, but we want to do what we said we're going to do."
Added Barrett, "There are options and alternatives [for the homeless], but staying on the hill isn't one of them." Union City has a homeless shelter that allows 40 guests per night.
Homeless Task Force
Said Union City Mayor Brain P. Stack in a telephone interview last week, "It's a very sad occurrence. I knew the victim. In fact, I've met both of them. It's a sad commentary."
Stack also stated that he would be convening the Union City Homeless Task Force that met months ago to "figure out the most humane way to deal with the problem." The task force, put together by Stack, includes in its ranks three Union City police officers, city spokesperson Kaufman, as well as representatives of the PERC Homeless Shelter in Union City.
According to PERC Director Tom Harrigan, there is no easy answer to the homeless problem. Harrigan said, "I don't know what the answer is. Alcohol is the real complicating factor here. I mean, if you stab somebody and kill them over a TV set, you have to be drunk, right?"
While the PERC shelter handles many homeless people, all with different backgrounds, some of the hill residents proved to be a problem, according to Harrigan. Said Harrigan, "Many of them [although not all] drink constantly and have substance abuse problems." Harrigan eventually ejected a number of them from the shelter. Said Harrigan, "We have strict rules here. You can't use while you're with us. If we could stress to these guys that they must be sober, I'd be willing to work with them, but I reiterate, they must be sober."
So, in light of the most recent homicide, it seems that Union City has made up its mind as to the fate of the homeless community. However, no one appears to be able to answer the most obvious question to arise out of this situation - Where do these homeless people go? It looks like for a group of people used to scratching and clawing to survive, their backs are once again against the wall.