DETROIT (WWJ) – An effort underway to clean up junk that’s cluttering Detroit-area freeway underpasses includes relocating some of the homeless. What police are calling “Operation Overpass” began Wednesday morning along I-75.
Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw says where the city’s homeless gather, you’ll find large piles of debris.
“When we’re done at all the different locations — which is about six of them — we’ll probably, all said and done, [have] two dump trucks full of different things,” said Shaw.
Shaw told WWJ’s Mike Campbell those different things include clothes and garbage, as well as much larger items — all left behind by the homeless.
“You can see that there’s actual mattresses, box springs, kitchen furniture,” Shaw said.
Lt. Ken Libanski of the Detroit Police Department says crews dressed in HAZMAT-style suits are finding some dangerous items well.
He said one targeted area once served as a “heroin shooting gallery.”
“We warn [workers] to make sure that they have brooms and shovels,” Libanski said. “We don’t want them picking up anything with their hands that’s not of a bulk nature.”
The areas being targeted are: I-75 and Springwells (large trash problem, rats); I-75 and Greene; I-75 and 14th Street; I-75 and 12th street; Lodge NB ramp off I-75; and I-375 at Gratiot.
Police say the homeless residing in these areas will be moved to shelters — if they agree to go. Those who refuse to go to shelters will still be forced to vacate the underpass area.
Jerome Chandler of Project Helping Hands is among those assisting in the relocation efforts.
“Living up under the underpass, you know, isn’t a good place to live,” said Chandler. “But sometimes … they may have substance abuse problems, mental health problems, so, I don’t know how grateful they are.
“Maybe they just feel that they’re not getting the help they need,” he said, “but there is help out here if they need it.”
Chandler, who’s been working with the homeless for six years, said he’s seen plenty of people turn their lives around.
“There’s a lot of success stories,” Chandler said. “About a year later, you’ll see them and you don’t recognize them. I recognized one guy — he was using an ATM machine. He had a job and a car … so, you can move on.”
Shaw said “Operation Overpass” will be an annual effort.