Homelessness is a daily struggle to survive.
When I became homeless I naively posed the question, "Do homeless individuals have rights? Do homeless individuals have different rights than the rest of the population?"
I posed this question because police's attitude toward the homeless population perplexed me. The homeless population is increasing and migratory, and no town or city is truly insular. There are no boundaries to prohibit a homeless individual from mobility. However, a "psuedo border patrol" does exist.
Many homeless people migrate because the police are harassing them. They hope that in the next area, they will be able to concentrate on their survival without unwarranted police intervention. The law-abiding senior homeless endure the brunt of police abuses and harassment because they are so vulnerable.
The Summit Police, I believe, have gone awry in their treatment of the homeless. I believe the NJ Transit police also harass the homeless.
So far, 19 police reports have been written about me over three years. The Summit Police have never placed charges against me and there have been no citations or arrests. They claim that the residents complain about me. But in my numerous conservations with Summit residents, I have found that claim to be unsubstantiated.
My encounters or altercations with the Summit Police always terminate with their "offer of assistance." What they really mean is: "We will help to transport you anywhere, but just get out of our town."
The Summit police officers have also instructed the homeless to stay inside or near the train station, which is NJ Transit property. The Summit Police believe that if the homeless remain at the station, the police and the affluent residents won't have to acknowledge the homeless presence in the area.
My personal difficulties were exacerbated when a well-known homeless activist publicized that he would pursue a lawsuit against the City of Summit, the Summit Police, and NJ Transit. The Summit Police then asked if I was affiliated with this individual. I assured them that I was not involved. But anger and hostility was exacerbated. I felt even more like a target because of my homeless status and my outspokenness concerning human rights.
Their words against me spread like wildfire.
A few Summit police officers informed me that they are Christians and churchgoers. If this is true, then why don't they treat the homeless better?
I search for safe places to sleep and rest at spots where I am not obstructing the public. During the frigid weather I seek warmth. I am clean, quiet, and law-abiding. I set my alarms and, most of the time, I vacate my spot at dawn.
Eventually, I was forced to go to spots that endangered my health and safety. One frigid March night I nearly froze while sleeping outside when it was 20 degrees.
I feel the anger, frustration, and disappointment, but I will not forego my Constitutional Rights or my dignity.
It is crucial to recognize law-abiding homeless as law-abiding citizens and that we, too, are protected by the Constitution.
I feel that it is necessary to be vocal about police tactics toward the homeless - and I am certain that the repercussions are forthcoming.