Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No Easy Answers to Helping Homeless, Officials Concede

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No Easy Answers to Helping Homeless, Officials Concede

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey, Clay County Line staff writer

The recent death of a homeless man who was struck and killed by an Amtrak train just north of Green Cove Springs has City Council members pondering what they could do to help people like him.

But there are no simple answers.

Some homeless people are known to live in wooded areas near the train tracks and its trestle over Governors Creek, just west of U.S. 17, an area that borders the city limits and that of Clay County.

But just because local government might want to help such homeless people does not necessarily mean they want assistance, said Police Chief Gail Russell. And privacy rights constrain local government from interfering, unless a crime is committed, he said.

"It's a little touchy," he told council members Tuesday. "A lot of communities are struggling with this. We can't mandate they move on somewhere else. . . . There are a lot of constitutional issues involved."

Jon Robert Chappell, 36, was killed after he did not respond to warning blasts from the Amtrak passenger train's whistle about 4 a.m. Monday, authorities said. He was squatting on the railroad tracks at the time.

Another homeless man was hit by a train a few years ago in the same area, behind a strip shopping center on U.S. 17 on the north side of Governors Creek, near Harbor Road.

Councilman Bob Page said Chappell may have been living under the nearby U.S. 17 bridge over the creek.

"It just seems like we could provide these folks with some help," he said.

It's not that easy, said Russell.

"Some of these people do not want to be helped," he said.

Green Cove Springs police officers do not attempt to remove the homeless who may congregate in that or other areas of the city, and risk being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union if they do so when no crime has been committed. But officers do investigate "if there is an issue" such as a trespassing complaint being filed against a homeless person, he said. …

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