[Hpn] Houston Chronicle: Men blame teens for rash of attacks at Galveston camp

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Sat, 17 Jul 2004 12:17:30 -0700


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HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com
Section: Local & State

July 16, 2004, 11:39PM

Streets seem to get meaner for homeless

Men blame teens for rash of attacks at Galveston camp
By ALLAN TURNER
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle


GALVESTON - After suffering weeks of attacks at the hands of baseball
bat-wielding teenagers, homeless men who congregate at a shopping center
just blocks from this resort city's tourist-packed beaches vowed to arm
themselves and wage "a war from hell."

"There's going to be a bloodbath," warned Michael Seesman, 50, informal
spokesman for the men and women who camp in the area around 61st Street and
Stewart Road.

In the past few months, the men said, African-American and Anglo youths have
beaten them with bats as they slept, cut them with knives, threatened them
with guns and pummeled them with fists.

"These kids attack us almost every day," Seesman said.

In April, May and June, 18 apparently homeless assault victims received
treatment at John Sealy Hospital's emergency room ‹ up from seven during the
year's first three months. While emergency cases typically increase as
summer approaches, said ER Director Dr. Brian Zachariah, at least three of
the 25 victims told doctors they had been beaten with bats.

Emergency room doctors saw only nine apparently homeless victims in the
first six months in 2003.


Only 1 report of attack
The attacks come as tension heightens between the transients and residents
and business owners in the 61st Street area, which is experiencing a boom in
new development. 



Though thugs occasionally target the homeless in Houston and other cities ‹
in April a man was set afire as he slept on a park bench in Corpus Christi ‹
the Galveston attacks do not appear to be part of an areawide campaign of
violence, Houston police and social service providers said.

Galveston police have received only one report of such attacks this year ‹
an April incident in which a 50-year-old man was hit in the mouth. "I'm not
saying this isn't happening," Police Chief Kenneth Mack said, "but it's not
showing up in our reports."

Officials at the Galveston Salvation Army, the Jesse Tree and the Galveston
County district attorney's office also were unaware of recent violence.

Residents familiar with the homeless ‹ a population often plagued by chronic
unemployment, alcohol and drug addiction, mental illness and, sometimes,
legal problems ‹ noted the men aren't likely to contact authorities when
they are victimized.

"I think they don't consider the police their friends," said Patricia
Stephenson, a businesswoman who has befriended the 61st Street homeless
colony.

Seesman said the homeless often are harassed by police, sometimes through
the use of the city's "impeding a sidewalk" ordinance, a law that prohibits
blocking a sidewalk with one's body, bedding or possessions. Eighty-three
citations for the offense, which generally brings fines and court costs of
$127, have been issued this year.


Dangerous bicyclists
Seesman's group, which includes perhaps 12 men and women, is an easy target
for its attackers. Members often spend mornings playing chess and sipping
from bottles of beer or alcohol-based mouthwash behind an area supermarket.
By midmorning, they drift away to menial jobs or lounge nearby.



Seesman, who said he is a Vietnam veteran, says attacks sometimes occur as
early as 3 p.m. as half a dozen or more youths wearing black and white
clothing ride to the camp on bicycles.

"One of them said, 'So you're the Airborne Ranger' and pointed a gun at my
chest," Seesman said. "I just knocked it out of his hand."

Stephen Davis, 39, said several bat-wielding bicyclists accosted him as he
strolled along Seawall Boulevard shortly before midnight several weeks ago.
The teens chased him with the weapons, and he escaped only when a motorist
stopped, opened the door to her truck and beckoned him to enter.

Roy Wright's arm was slashed from shoulder to elbow, the men said, while
"Mouthwash Randy" suffered an apparent concussion in an attack, reappearing
on the street days later with stitches above his eyes.

Plate glass windows in stores near the homeless camp are pocked with holes
from BB pellets Seesman said were fired at his group.

Julia Walker, who has been friends with some of the men for about 10 years,
said she has seen teens taunting the homeless with rocks but has not
witnessed an attack. "I've seen the aftermath of the attacks, though. In the
past two months, I've seen them all beaten up," she said. "They never were
beaten up before."


Tensions rise on island
The attacks have come as some area residents and businessmen have grown
weary of the homeless. Ted Hanley, executive director of the Jesse Tree, a
social service agency, said the area around 61st Street increasingly has
become a home for the homeless.



"There's been a real outcry from the community," he said. "We've seen a
geometrical increase in panhandling. You virtually can't pump gas without
getting panhandled."

Hanley said he is puzzled that the homeless congregate far from the
shelters, soup kitchens and other services that are in the central city.

"Galveston is tolerant of the homeless," he said, "but sometimes I think the
homeless have been indifferent to the needs of the business community."

One businessman, confronting a homeless man as he showed a reporter the site
of a fire set in the camp, was blunter. "You're the ones setting these fires
and breaking in," Mike Orlando shouted at the homeless man. "You're winos
and drunks."

Although she was not familiar with the Galveston case, Ann Thomas, of the
Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, suggested Seesman's
group may be coming under attack simply because it is perceived as
vulnerable. "With youth, there is a general lack of regard for anything
outside their circle," she said. "A street person often is seen as
unimportant."

David Thomas, director of the Texas Center for Adolescent Rehabilitation and
Education, noted there is a strong tendency for youths who are neglected or
abused to prey on the defenseless.

"I would bet that there has been a lot of brutality aimed toward one or more
of these youths," he said of the Galveston attackers. "They're expressing
their anger. Unfortunately, they will end up in prison, either now or later
in their lives, if they don't come to terms with this issue. Even if they
do, they'll always be at risk."
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allan.turner@chron.com
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HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com 
Section: Local & State
This article is: 
http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/2686086

-- 
chance martin
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