“Sweeps”: Tears, Chaos & Trash

By J. Shockley, Writer for My Dog Eats First

When we hear the word, “sweep,” thoughts of a broom might brush our thoughts. When a homeless person hears the word sweep… in most cases they are filled with dread, a greater feeling of insecurity, loss of hope, and fear. This doesn’t happen because they want to be unclean, and the thought of sweeping the earthen floors they live on doesn’t appeal to them. The definition of sweep is different when it comes to the homeless community.

For the unfortunate, a sweep is a government operation that entails official employees combing areas known for homeless communities or individuals and removing them. Depending on the individuals handling the sweep, this can take place in a variety of ways. Sometimes a sign is posted, letting homeless people know they have 2 weeks to vacate, such as a recent case in Frankfort. However, other times, there is no polite request on paper. Sweeps can be much harsher than an eviction notice, or no trespassing sign. A horrific sweep occurred not long before the holidays, where many homeless lost what little they had. Sweeps can be common close to a specific tourist season, like the Kentucky Derby.

We spoke with Natalie Harris, the executive Director for the Louisville Coalition for the Homeless. Natalie stated: “It has to be a property owner that signs the complaint form. The police than go and remove homeless folks from the property. They usually call and let us know so we can send out an outreach team, but not always.”

That is the way things are “supposed” to go, but as she stated, it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes neighbors will call and complain about homeless people camping as an eyesore, though they don’t own the property. The police, of course, will investigate this, and the unfortunate are once again forced to relocate.

What happens during an official sweep? These already impoverished individuals become the helpless victims of a human hurricane. The official employees of the city, county or state, depending on from whence the order came, don’t just politely say, “move” after the expiration of any notice given. No… they take utility blades and slice up tents, tarps and sleeping bags. They kick down any make shift shacks that protect the homeless from the elements. They cut up their clothing, throw away food, trample belongings, and ransack campsites worse than any hungry bear ever could. They destroy all that these people have with the knowledge that 99% of them will be unable to replenish what was destroyed.

The homeless with pets suffer additional loss during a sweep, as animals aren’t a priority for the sweepers. Some might run off the pets, others might call animal control and have them picked up. There is no set system in place to “my” knowledge during these victimizing assaults on humanity. A homeless individual might return from day labor to find their campsites destroyed… and their beloved companions missing. Now, they have truly lost everything during this “sweep”. They have no knowledge if their fur baby was ran off, if they were taken, by whom, or even if their precious companions are alive. This needs to change…

Why does our leadership or members of our community call for such harshness and inhumane treatment of our homeless? There really is no good reason for treating another human in this manner. A perfect example for a sweep in “their” eyes would be the Kentucky Derby. All state officials want to represent a healthy, happy atmosphere with clean streets and festive celebrating. They feel an image of a poor homeless person leading their dog down the street with a backpack taints the festivities. Their reasoning is tourism, and it occurs in every state.

Kentucky is not the only anti homeless monster in the closet. During the prepping for the 1996 Olympic hosting, the mayor of Atlanta Georgia did a sweep while increasing stricter panhandling and loitering ordinances. They arrested countless homeless people weeks before the first Olympian arrived. We have been witness to sweeps in parts of Florida during peak tourist season. Homeless individuals sitting peacefully are suddenly the targets of police for “loitering”, and find themselves spending a weekend in a cell. Sweeps are swift, brutal, and completely devastating, regardless which state you happen to be in. If someone broke into our homes, we would all simply call the police, as it would be considered a crime of vandalism, theft, or destruction of private property. Why can’t the homeless have this same benefit?

Because, when the order is given for a sweep, the laws do not apply, and human rights are just a fairy tale. Organizations like the Coalition for the Homeless and My Dog Eats First do their best to help the homeless in these situations, but as mentioned previously, advanced notice is not always provided.

According a University of Louisville study submitted to the Kentucky Interagency Council on Homelessness: “The cost to help the homeless communities is staggering. The results of a two-year study conducted by the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville showed that it cost nearly $89 million over a two year period to shelter and care for just over 7,000 single homeless adults. The study also showed that providing permanent housing for these individuals over the tow year period would have saved $6.4 million. This study and others like it demonstrate that providing a permanent, supportive housing is the best and most cost effective way of solving homelessness.”

We need to raise awareness on sweeps, and the overall devastation that these types of operations bring to those with already limited belongings, mental or physical disabilities. The above figures are far from accurate due to the true number of homeless individuals that go uncounted… because they hide. The sweeps only find a portion of the homeless, as some pack everything they have into a backpack and hide their animals in a safer place if they go to day labor, or looking for work. Some know the general time frames of sweeps, and take additional precautions. Others have no understanding of how to take precautions because of a mental or physical disability. The homeless population with companion animals is void of any shelters that welcome pets and people. Even if they asked for help, they’d find only crickets chirping in response, and this needs to change.

There is a place they can go for a friendly smile, a welcoming glow, and help for their animals, and that is My Dog Eats First. There, the loving companions of the homeless will get the same love, affection and care that any other animal can, but without the high costs associated. This is with thanks to caring, compassionate volunteers, including veterinarians. Donations can also be dropped for the homeless companion animals at this facility located at 2509 Portland Avenue on Wednesday’s between 6 pm and 9 pm. A bag of dog food, a warm blanket, or even a brush can become a treasure to a homeless individual and their best friend who’ve experienced a sweep.