Signal 88 Security is ecstatic to name Officers Erica Hutchinson and Cherese Castleberry of Signal 88 Security of Pensacola, as its June 2021 Heroes of the Month!
Swatting mosquitoes in the sweltering Florida heat is one thing. Perspiring and avoiding insect bites while enduring horrific garbage smells is quite another. But to Erica Hutchinson and Cherese Castleberry of Signal 88 Security of Pensacola, Florida, the grueling cleanup of a homeless encampment was all part of assisting a new client with challenging work few would ever do.
For nearly five years, a four-acre property in the middle of Pensacola was plagued with problems. The property owners lived out of state, and while they couldn’t keep eyes on this wooded parcel next to a post office, vagrants decided to settle in. The two homes on the land still had water and electricity so local homeless folks moved in and literally trashed the houses beyond repair. One of the homes accidentally burned down and the other eventually had to be razed.
“The owners had called several other companies to try to get the property cleaned up, but no one would take it on,” Megan Bonner, #249 Administrative Director explains. “They faced several issues with code enforcement along the way to the point where the county was about to file a lawsuit against the owners.”
A call to Signal 88 in May saved the day for the client and the community surrounding the ransacked property. Branch Manager Samantha Mitchell asked for volunteers for the property cleanup and Branch Coordinator Erica Hutchinson and Day Patrol Officer Cherese Castleberry stepped up to the plate along with Samantha.
Police officers helped evacuate any remaining vagrants the first morning of the cleanup. For three arduous days, the trio donned their gloves and charged ahead in picking up some 2,500 pounds of putrid garbage, filthy clothing, broken shopping carts, sagging tents and boxes lined with human waste. Some of the homeless had also urinated in plastic bags and tied the bags to surrounding trees and bushes.
Wearing masks to help block out the stench was not possible because of the uncomfortably hot and humid conditions, so the Signal 88 team buckled down and pressed on, tossing garbage bag after garbage bag onto two flatbed trailers.
“The vagrants had furniture in their tents and outside their tents and tables and chairs and pieces of couches and pieces refrigerators,” Megan says. “These three gals picked up all of this themselves.”
Erica remembers the volume of discarded items. “I couldn’t believe how much furniture that was out there,” Erica adds. “This one woman had a little corner blocked out in a tent and had her own little apartment in there.”
Cherese recalls the oppressive ramshackle conditions. “I couldn’t imagine treating somebody else’s property so poorly. If a piece of property could smell horrible, this absolutely did,” Cherese says. “But it was encouraging to watch our progress going from absolutely horrible to something worth being proud of. Beside the property owners, the neighbors across the street were very thankful once we were done.”
Cherese and other Signal 88 team members now conduct random patrols on the property to make sure no trespassers settle in on the cleaned-up land.
When it comes to each gratefully accepting the Hero of the Month award, Erica gives her definition of hero. “Somebody who looks up to you,” she explains. “Teamwork is about working together helping somebody else and pitching in and making the situation not about yourselves.”
Well said, Erica. Thanks Erica and Cherese for working as a dedicated team no matter what challenges arise. For this, we are honored to award you both with our June Hero of the Month award.