Local News

Many Of Raleigh's Homeless Continue To Appear In Court

Posted April 29, 2005 6:50 a.m. EDT

— In Wake County, many homeless people who commit crimes repeatedly end up in the court system. The cost to house them in jail is staggering and you are paying for it.

Raleigh police said they are very familiar with many of the homeless people in the area. They arrest many of the same people over and over, mostly for petty crimes like begging, trespassing and sleeping in the park.

"Our main job is to protect and serve and when we've made an arrest, we've done what were supposed to do," said Capt. Mike Reynolds, of the Raleigh Police Department.

Last year, WRAL's Amanda Lamb was attacked by a homeless man in front of the Wake County Jail by a person with a history of assaulting police officers. Just last week, two women alleged Timothy Wade attacked them with a knife on Fayetteville Street Mall.

James Campbell, who lives on the street, said homeless people are arrested for no real reason. He has been arrested 43 times.

"I'm a human being. Whether you are or not, that's not my problem. The police have their own problems. If they want to take it out on me, that's up to them," he said.

Many of the homeless end up in Wake County courtrooms. District Court Judge Paul Gessner said the judicial system is at a loss.

"It's very frustrating. The public wants us to do something with these people," he said. "Do you put this person in jail for 30 days for drinking wine on the city street? Because that's a tremendous cost to the taxpayers to house these folks in the jail across the street."

Joseph Wesley has been arrested 126 times and has spent more than 1,500 nights in the Wake County Jail at a cost of nearly $71,000. Donnie Tant has been picked up 210 times and spent more than 2,000 nights in jail at a taxpayer cost of $93,000.

Jean Tedrow heads a local organization that helps people transition from jail to the community by helping them find housing and jobs. She said her program is successful, but she cannot help everyone.

"If we don't give them that opportunity, they've been locked up. Now, they're going to come out into the community and be locked out, they'll go right back to prison," she said.

Wake County judges said substance abuse and mental illness are two of the main problems they see in the homeless suspects who come through their courtrooms.

For the past year, community leaders in Raleigh have struggled with the problem of homelessness, trying to come up with a 10-year plan to all but eliminate it.