The QueQue: Blood on the tracks, District 3 shuffle, Prisons and profits
Published: January 11, 2012
Blood on the tracks
On Christmas Day, an ex-Haven for Hope resident recently banned from the shelter stepped onto the tracks that edge the homeless services campus and into a moving train. While the first successful suicide here in recent years, it was the third such suicide-by-train attempt since Haven for Hope opened in spring 2010, said Haven CEO George Block. “It’s been a concern for us, it’s certainly a concern for Union Pacific, but it sort of is what it is,” he told QueQue. “That’s why the land was here for us, it was an abandoned rail yard.”
Block described surveillance camera footage showing José Perez, 35, walking toward the tracks at West Martin Street before walking in front of the train just before it buzzed past the Haven campus. Perez, Block said, had been in and out of jail, the state hospital, or crisis treatment centers for the past 15 years battling mental illness or substance abuse, and was sometimes incarcerated for violent offenses. Perez briefly entered Haven’s transformation program but left within days, Block said. He stayed at Prospects Courtyard, an outdoor shelter at the campus run by the Center for Health Care Services but was banned three months ago after assaulting residents and a security guard, Block said. On Christmas, he tried to enter Prospects again but was ordered away.
At least two other homeless individuals have tried to take their own lives by stepping out in front of trains since Haven opened, Block said, neither of which were successful. One would-be suicide last year was eventually talked off the tracks by a Haven staff member. The other was grabbed and hauled off the tracks by a Haven staffer before the train passed.
On top of suicide attempts, Block said the tracks present another problem. When first opening, Haven worked with Union Pacific to upgrade all nearby intersections to quiet zones, installing crossing arms and loud alarms at each intersection. But Block says trains pass through and stall for long periods of time near the campus, blocking the main Haven entrance and the entrance to the Courtyard about a block south. Some residents climb underneath stalled trains rather than wait or try to beat trains as they pass, Block said.
And there’s a long stretch of rail running between the main campus entrance and the entrance to Prospects — individuals constantly wander those tracks on the edge of the campus. Block says Haven wants to build sidewalks running between the two entrances, keeping people away from the rail line. “Union Pacific says they don’t want people in that area, but people aren’t going to walk around and go four blocks just to walk one block.” Haven’s still waiting on permission from Union Pacific, he said.