My homeless friend James was fortunate to be elsewhere Wednesday when about 10 police cars descended on the vacant Syracuse office building where he has slept for over a year.
The police weren’t after James, who sleeps outside in a doorway of the 10-story building in the heart of downtown. Officers were there to remove others who, according to James, have had free access to the building day and night for illicit activities.
The building — across the street from city hall and the mayor’s office — has been vacant for 20 years. It’s more than $2 million in arrears to Syracuse, a city that struggles to pave or even stripe its streets properly.
I couldn’t find James Thursday, and I feared he had been evicted or arrested. I spoke with workers installing plywood over the revolving doors near where James sleeps year round. (Overnight temperatures dropped below zero four times last week.) The workers said they hadn’t seen him that day.
But James was back in his doorway Friday, huddled under a sleeping bag and blankets while several pigeons fought nearby over a frozen loaf of bread. James regularly feeds them extra bread he collects from a food pantry. He usually breaks it into pieces, but this loaf was frozen solid and the pigeons pecked their way into the middle of it.
Less than 10 feet from where James sleeps is a brown, frozen puddle of excrement, left there, he said, by a man who used to hang out in another doorway. The puddle has been there three or four months, although the frigid air kills the odor.
I tried again Friday to reach Syracuse police for an official explanation for their sweep of the building, but had no luck.
James said police arrested a few people who were inside. Police were there several hours, he said, because one guy had a good hiding place and it took a while to find him. Another got away, James said, and said he’d be back. He told James he knows of a way to get back inside.
I stopped by to see James Saturday night and noticed a couple of hardcover books on top of the boarded-up revolving doors. One is a Stephen King novel. The other, James said, is a Gideons Bible one of the trespassers left behind and asked him to hang onto.