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'Shocked': Homeless encampment grows in Rose Hill Cemetery

Rose Hill preservationist Joey Fernandez says the encampment developed around a week ago, and is just beyond the Catholic section of the cemetery.

MACON, Ga. — Rose Hill Cemetery has many visitors walking through its gates, paying respect to the many notable names buried there.

However, recently, it's had some more permanent guests. 

The smell of smoke from their campfires fills the cemetery’s air as you walk closer to where the tent encampment hides away – in the woods just beyond where all the Catholic graves are.  

Rose Hill preservationist Joey Fernandez says that this could be dangerous.

"It really upsets me that this is going on,” he says. 

Fernandez says he discovered the tent encampment a week ago when he noticed a sudden high flow of visitors. 

"I just followed the trash trail and when I saw it, I was pretty much shocked,” he explains.

Fernandez says he's seen about 9 tents, around 13-14 people, and large amounts of trash there, including furniture and even needles.

He says on Thursday afternoon, he even heard a gun being fired in the area. He says law enforcement were called, but they did not come. 

Fernandez says he's frustrated. 

"We're spending a lot of time and a lot of money and effort to clean up Rose Hill Cemetery, and do away with all of the bad things that happen. As soon as we feel like we're accomplishing something, this happens,” he says. 

Jake Hall, executive director of the United to End Homelessness group, says they're working with the county.

"We have providers that have already begun the process of entering the community,” he says. 

Hall says his job is to act as a bridge between homeless individuals and resources to help them. 

“When these encampments happen in public spaces like this, it can become a public health crisis for those living within the encampment, and the public," he said. 

Hall says as the weather gets colder, fires they start to keep warm could be hazardous, or living in such close proximity to one another in a space not meant for that many people. 

He says many of the homeless population suffers from mental illness, or addiction; he says some are families and veterans. 

Hall says they'll help folks in a humane and respectful way by prioritizing finding people for shelter using a federal strategy called ‘Housing First’. 

"It begins by gathering providers and also, in a respectful way, entering the encampment and forging connections. This is about providing services to our fellow citizens here, so that begins with compassion and an outreached hand," he said.

Hall says folks will be directed towards resources like the Brookdale Resource Center, the Salvation Army, and more. 

He adds that he can't give a timeline to how long it will take to help this encampment disperse, but he says they are very actively responding to any homeless encampments that are reported. 

Fernandez says that security cameras will be installed at the main gate by the end of January. 


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