One of the inhabitants, Jimmy Miller, told the Daily Journal that officers arrived at around 7:30 or 8 a.m. and told everyone they had five minutes to get their stuff and get out.
Tupelo Public Works employees used a backhoe to tear down the camp, as well as surrounding trees and shrubbery, shortly afterward.
Miller said he doesn't know where he'll go now.
Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton simply said his office was "cleaning up" and referred questions to Mayor Jack Reed Jr.
Reed, in a prepared statement, said the property owners requested the move due to numerous incidents. (Full statement published below.)
About one dozen people have been in tents pitched on the north bank of Town Creek behind Wendy’s. They say The Salvation Army rejected them because they can’t or won’t follow its strict rules regarding alcohol use and daily job hunts.
Owners of the private property erected a bright orange fence and "No Trespassing" signs about a month ago but didn't ask inhabitants to leave.
Miller said he believes a fight that erupted between two of the homeless people about a week ago sparked today's eviction.
None of the inhabitants had come to the Salvation Army as of mid morning, said Maj. Sue Dorman. But she said they're always welcome.
"I think we can do something with the homeless rather than them having them live under the bridges and that type of thing," Dorman said.
Statements from the city
1. Mayor Jack Reed, Jr.
This morning the Tupelo Police Department responded to a formal request from Mr. Billy Haygood, Manager of L.D. Hancock Company, LLC, to remove the trespassers on the property bordering Gloster Street and Carnation Street.
This request mentions the fact that “the individuals are living on the property without shelter, running water, electricity, sewage service, or other basic utilities that are essential to maintain safe, healthy conditions for human habitation. In addition, the individuals are sometimes present and come in close proximity to machinery and equipment used to maintain the property. Accordingly, L.D. Hancock is extremely concerned about the danger posed to the trespassers, not to mention the health and sanitation issues presented to the general public.”
In addition to this complaint from the property owner, the Tupelo Police Department has had to effect 7 arrests on the property since January 1, 2012. Last week the police department responded to a knife fight and made public drunkenness arrests.
Most seriously of all, recently one of the trespassers approached children playing baseball on the nearby Salvation Army baseball field and made sexual advances before city police officers were called.
In conclusion, the city is very concerned about finding appropriate living conditions for every citizen; but we also have compassion for the property owners in the area whose businesses have been negatively affected, and certainly the safety of our children and adults is a fundamental responsibility of city government.
2. Fred Pitts, City Council President
“The council has been discussing this with the Mayor for months. With the request from the Hancock Foundation regarding trespassing and local businesses asking us to do something about it, I am glad we are taking some steps to fix the situation."
3. Tami Rhudy-Busby – Executive Director, Imaging Center
“The situation with the homeless has gone from being a simple inconvenience and nuisance to a threat. Over the last couple weeks one individual in particular has come into The Imaging Center on three occasions and gotten ugly with my staff. Two of my employees have expressed to me that they felt very threatened by his attitude and actions. This is completely unacceptable! Not only from the stand point of an employer who is responsible for the safety of its employees while at work, but as a health care provider who is responsible for the safety of my patients while inside my facility. Now more than ever we need the help of the mayor’s office and local law enforcement to rectify this situation.
4. Atlanta Bread – Kipp Tigrett
“Everybody has compassion for them… this is just not the appropriate place for them to be living. We are trying to grow this area of the city and this situation is hazardous and has scared our customers. We have litter near the business. I would love for a business to move on the land next door, but with what’s going on, I’m not sure if that will happen. I am 110% supportive of the city taking care of this. Local businesses appreciate the support.”
5. HoneyBaked Ham – Chauncey Godwin
“I want to thank the mayor and city… I appreciate what the city is doing.”
Statement from Doyce Deas
I am appalled by this action," said Doyce Deas, a member of the Hancock family who believes the city manipulated her relatives into authorizing the eviction.
"The city is using this tactic to try to solve a problem that they're not willing to address. I am disappointed in Tupelo that it would use such means to remove this population."
More as this story develops.