Editorials

From chicken wings to a punch in the face to who knows what’s next

Jessie Wilson, 53, is homeless and well known to police, with 181 assorted complaints. Services are thin in the metro-east for homeless people who do not seek help.
Jessie Wilson, 53, is homeless and well known to police, with 181 assorted complaints. Services are thin in the metro-east for homeless people who do not seek help. Provided

Jessie Wilson is 53, homeless and very troubled. He has two felonies and 87 criminal misdemeanors on a record of 181 encounters with law enforcement — an average of one every 10 weeks of his adult life.

Something’s very wrong with this picture.

In the wee hours Thursday, Swansea Police were called to a home because Wilson refused to leave. He punched the homeowner in the face right in front of the officers. Then he fought with officers trying to cuff him.

In January, Wilson refused to leave a homeowner’s sunroom unless he was given chicken wings. He was given the wings, but still refused to leave.

Swansea Police Chief Steve Johnson wrote: “The only time we do not have calls on him is when he is in jail. He needs help, but it is beyond what police officers can do.”

Repeatedly Wilson has been arrested for being drunk in public. Repeatedly he is on public transit without a ticket.

His life has been filled with misdemeanor crimes, but violence is becoming part of his pattern.

A decade ago a medical study looked at improving life for homeless alcoholics by giving them alcohol, in doses at hourly intervals. It worked. Their ER visits dropped by 40 percent and encounters with police were cut in half.

We’re not advocating setting up a free booze stand, but the tactic succeeded because there was a homeless shelter where the alcohol was distributed. There was an infrastructure.

What we have in this area is a patchwork. Services exist for families on the edge of homelessness. Services exist for those who voluntarily seek treatment for substance abuse.

But since the Salvation Army shelter closed in Belleville, there is really no outreach for homeless people in the metro-east who don’t want, or don’t know they need, help. A bus ticket to St. Louis and the homeless services over there is their best bet.

That is, at least until the Rev. Larry Rice organizes another homeless protest to point fingers because this region is not taking care of its homeless. The only reason we likely have not heard from our Missouri conscience recently is because St. Louis has been giving him a fight on his home turf.

But do we need a homeless protest on this issue, or will Wilson’s next encounter with another Swansea homeowner provide the incentive?

Let’s hope not.

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