Think. Serve. Worship. Belong.

A Homeless Encounter with the Augusta Police

A Homeless Encounter with the Augusta Police
By Beth Fultz, Director of Christian Education

She was overweight, tired, carrying a back pack and a rolling bag of clothes. Weighted down by the baggage; wearing a ball cap, tee shirt, pants, and an ankle brace; she lay down on the park bench for a nap that fateful afternoon. Though she was completely wet, the sunshine in Augusta, Georgia, that summer was just the ticket to help her dry out. Meanwhile, two police officers of the Augusta Police Department were watching her actions and about to investigate. The APD shared a 10-story glass building in downtown with the YMCA that opened to the Savannah River Walk with a vista of the river, the neighboring state of South Carolina, and the fancy mansions that sidled up to the river bank. It was a beautiful view for tourists and not a place that encouraged loiterers, particularly slovenly ones.

A small group of the sleeper’s friends were in the lobby of the building observing what was about to happen. One said, “Oh, no, she’s about to be arrested by the police! Watch!” A few others got up
from their lobby couches to see what was going down. The two police officers approached the woman and asked about her health as she appeared to be disabled, and could they be of assistance. She sat up and replied, “No, I’m fine! I’m from Texas and waiting for a shower.” They questioned her further about her health and her story. “Ma’am, we’re sorry, but you look as though you need to go to the hospital!” The lady’s friends in the lobby were not privy to the conversation, but were recording the situation expecting their slovenly buddy to be temporarily taken into custody. “No, I’m fine.” she replied. “I’m wet because I lead recreation at a Vacation Bible School in town and I’m waiting on a shower. It was ‘Slip & Slide Day’ and I held the water hose!” The police officers appeared to question the veracity and sanity of this woman and fully expecting her to ask for money next. She got up and resigned herself to return to the lobby wet, wait her turn for an empty shower, and prove to the police officers that she could walk on her own. The police, though skeptical, left her alone and returned to their perch in the building to share their own slant of what just happened with their buddies. The lady’s friends, meanwhile, were having a good laugh looking at the pictures they took of the encounter with the Augusta Police.

Though Tommy Wadley still has the damning evidence, he has kept the viewing of my episode with the police off social media for the time being, probably because I’m paying him off. Many times I
don’t have a good sense of how I appear to others when I’m on a Youth Mission Trip and I apparently don’t care where I take naps. What recourse did the police officers have but to check on my health and get me off their River Walk as soon as possible? Though I was lucid, did I really make sense about water hoses and recreation?

Last Sunday at St. Stephen, Tommy Wadley suddenly appeared with a homeless gentleman, ‘Keith’, in the Education Building. I recognized the man from an encounter last summer when he appeared on the church lawn just seeking water. Tommy offered him some leftovers from the refrigerator as our Sunday School break-fast had no morsels remaining. Keith’s clothes were covered in soot due to building camp fires by the Zoo forest to keep warm. He was thirsty, needed some warmer clothes, and was hungry. Tommy sought clothes in the basement, Robby and I packed up some food left in the refrigerator, while Sharon Curry offered to pray with him as he wanted to go to church. As we wrestled with that idea, Sharon took him to our chapel and asked for his prayer requests. She talked with him a bit before praying for the safety and well being of homeless people. Keith wasn’t asking prayers for himself, but for others. He was lucid, well mannered, kind, and even admitted that on occasion he takes a sip of water from one of our water hoses to quench his thirst. We all conversed with him for about 20 minutes, prayed with him, and then escorted him back to McPherson Ave. for his return to the Zoo forest.

What recourse did we have, as a church on a Sunday morning, to offer this man? Did we treat him well? Did we prevent him from worshipping with us or did our impromptu prayer service suffice? Was he just cooking food for himself or sharing it with other homeless people in the forest? Having been labeled as homeless and handicapped myself, I wonder. How will we, the people of St. Stephen, treat our next homeless guest who appears, not on a Tuesday night for Room in the Inn, but on another day? I think it’s all connected in this crazy world that God lets us wander through. Water hoses were prominent in both stories as was Tommy Wadley. Laughter and courtesy played their roles, too. And I wonder — what will I do the next time I want to nap in a public place??

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