After finding a man’s body floating in a pond, Columbia Police have broken up two makeshift encampments at Southeast Park off of Garners Ferry Road.
Police cleared out the two encampments after notifying the five to seven homeless people living in them to clear out, Deputy Chief Ruben Santiago said Wednesday. Police discovered them while investigating a homicide at the park Sunday, when a homeless man’s body was found in the pond at the 62-acre park.
When investigators found the encampments in the woods near one of the park’s trails last week, they were littered with trash and belongings from grills and meat in coolers to DVDs and clothes. Three tents had been set up – two purchased from a store and one built around a tree branch. It is suspected that the man who was killed and two men arrested in the following investigation all lived at the encampments.
Peter Chalers and Lawrence Stevens were both arrested following the slaying, Chalers for accessory after the fact to murder and Kinsley with urban camping and providing false information to police.
The department searched for evidence in the homicide investigation before notifying the people living in the camps to leave. When sanitation department workers started clearing the area about 9 a.m. Wednesday, no one was at the park. Two dump trucks were brought in to clear out the area.
Santiago said the department periodically finds encampments like the one in Southeast Park around the city, but doesn’t think that they necessarily contribute to crime in their respective areas.
“We don’t want to stereotype homeless people as being criminals, but the fact is that we do have an ordinance in the city of Columbia and it causes harm to our community and to our environment,” he said.