HALEYVILLE - The issue of free internet access attracting people to downtown Haleyville to hang out, including persons who are possibly using drugs or are homeless, was brought to the ears of the Haleyville City Council by concerned residents Sept. 5.
Phyllis Grissom and her brother, Scotty Burleson, spoke out from the audience, addressing Mayor Ken Sunseri and council members at the council’s regular meeting about safety concerns over drugs and homeless people allegedly camping in the downtown area and other issues.
Grissom noted that she walks in the downtown area, noticing people riding bicycles.
“You can tell they lived on the streets,” she said, “because they had their belongings, their backpacks and stuff on their bicycle.
“That was even in the daytime because sometimes I walk early in the morning,” Grissom added. “I kept on walking.”
As the daytime heat intensified, Grissom would walk later in the day, she said.
“There would be somebody on that wall where the stage is. There were people gathered around that,” Grissom pointed out.
Grissom was referring to the Heart of Haleyville Park across from the Dixie Theatre on Main Street.
“You could tell they were going to stay there that night,” she informed the mayor and council.
“It seems like they have made downtown their home,” Grissom pointed out. “I thought, ‘this is dangerous,” adding she contacted Burleson about the situation.
“I got back to the car and I said, ‘I don’t feel safe walking downtown anymore,” Grissom further pointed out.
Grissom stressed to the mayor and council that she did not feel she was better than anybody, and that was not why she was voicing her concerns.
“In the United States, you can have a place to live if you really want to,” Grissom pointed out. “If you get off drugs, if that is what the problem is, they can find a job.
“I have worked and paid taxes since I was 15,” she continued. “They are not any better than I am.
“They need to get a home and, instead of putting up tents by the library or somewhere in there,” Grissom stated. “It is just not safe.
“If they are doing this, taking up our town, they will be taking over our houses next,” she added. “It’s just scary.
“If we let them do this, then we are just aiding them to do something bad eventually, is my theory,” Grissom said.
“The last couple of months, going to church on Sunday mornings, I have seen a lot of transients coming through town, a lot of people that you can tell by looking at them are on meth,” Burleson pointed out.
“When we have open doors, and people are feeding these people, bringing them into town, they have a network. They bring everybody,” Burleson continued.
“They are being run out of other towns,” he said.
“If you report them and they are caught, they are going to come and kill you,” he stated. “When they get high on that stuff, police can hardly deal with them.
“What kind of weapons would they have?” Burleson continued. “Are we inviting a culture where you can’t even walk downtown without being threatened and being killed at gun point, thinking you’ve got money?”
Burleson noted he was concerned that homeless people may be sleeping overnight and doing drugs in some of the vacant buildings downtown.
“We’ve got to do something to protect our citizens, protect our city and protect our people who are downtown,” Burleson exclaimed.
“It will be hard for a lot of people to trust coming downtown to do any business, especially in the afternoon or evening,” he continued.
“When you see someone walking with backpacks and some kind of carriage thing like a grocery cart full of their belongings, you know they are coming from somewhere else,” Burleson said.
respond to concerns
Council member Drew Thrasher suggested the police be contacted to check out these situations.
“I haven’t seen the ones pushing their carts around or anything of that nature,” Thrasher said. “They are usually sitting on the walls with phones charging.
“That is one thing we could probably do is cut those plugs off and cut the power to those and stop that part,” Thrasher pointed out.
Council member Brian Berry echoed that much of the problem comes from offering free Wi-Fi downtown.
Berry also told Grissom and Burleson he could relate to their concerns.
“We have a shop downtown, and I have seen things that you’re talking about,” Berry said. “They are there early in the morning, and sometimes they are there until 11 o’clock at night.
“It’s very eerie leaving (the business) at 11 o’clock at night with some of the stuff I have seen,” Berry added.
“We could get the (police) chief to step up patrols as far as if there is anyone camping there,” added council member Dr. Ray Boshell.
“I know Jasper is having a big issue with this right now,” Boshell added. “You don’t want it to be a problem here, so I appreciate you coming.”
Mayor addresses downtown Wi-Fi issue
Sunseri then addressed the downtown Wi-Fi issue, stating it was provided through a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.
ARC does periodical checks to see how many people are using the service and what the use actually is, Sunseri added.
“The Wi-Fi will stay in place,” he emphasized.
“Somebody walking through town with a backpack on isn’t a justification for us to stop them. If they are showing signs of being on drugs, things of that nature, they will (be stopped),” the mayor explained.
“We can arrest someone for drug possession and drug paraphernalia. We carry them to (the) Winston County (jail). Sometimes they beat us back here,” Sunseri pointed out. “There is no penalty. That’s the judicial system. That is not the police department’s responsibility.
“It’s frustrating for us,” the mayor continued. “I understand where you are coming from. I go downtown at night, but I haven’t seen any problems. It depends, I guess, on what time you are there.
“But people coming in and charging their phones is not illegal,” Sunseri pointed out. “We will be glad to have the officers start patrolling more over there.
“I have never seen a tent behind the library either,” Sunseri then said. “We will have police officers take note of that and start checking over there.”
Sunseri reminded residents that when they see something suspicious or a problem to contact dispatch at (205) 486-5201 or use the ReportIt! app to post an online complaint, which is read by the city, police and necessary responding agencies.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.