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Saturday, December 4, 2010
Prison Labor Clears Camps of Homeless Humans at Behest of Foreign Owners
[CHARLOTTE COUNTY - In the woods near the Port Charlotte Town Center mall, a weathered, plastic red and blue flowered wreath marks a path where sheriff's deputies and a prisoner crew will navigate heavy equipment to clean out 16 homeless camp sites today...
Charlotte County sheriff's officials emphasized the camps' "environmental hazards."
"It's a quality-of-life issue," said Billie Hatmaker, an environmental crimes investigator, nodding to the retail stores. "Look how close we are to businesses."
The county treats the abandoned camp sites as environmental hazards because of possible human waste, so Hatmaker is accompanied by an agent from the state Department of Environmental Protection to oversee the cleanup.
Charlotte officials cannot say where residents cleared from the dozens of camps have gone. But they draw a distinction between those who are chronically homeless and unwilling to accept help and those who are merely "homeless" and economically displaced.
There is a difference, deputies insist, and it has to do with alcohol and drugs.
"People with economic issues will normally accept our help," said Hatmaker.
That usually means referring people to the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition, the area's only shelter, which has room for 52 people and typically has a waiting list.
The county does not offer transportation.
Charlotte deputies have initiated the camp sweeps by tracking down property owners and giving them a choice: Sign an order that declares the campers trespassers, in which case the county offers to use prisoners to clean up the sites at no cost, or resist.
"If the owner won't agree, then it's a code enforcement issue" and county workers will clean it up and send a bill, Hatmaker said.
Tracking down landowners has involved international calls to people as far away as Hong Kong and Japan.
"Many of these people have bought the property sight unseen," he said, adding that they "are more than happy" for the cleanups...
He said the cleanups do not cost the county anything because officers work their normal hours and the prison labor is free.] Emphasis added