A well-known local homeless man, known to many as “Stick,” was found dead near city hall Thursday in the Debard and Queen Street area. James Earl Jackson Sr., was 66 and lived in Palestine.
Jackson was found on the ground, just before 7 a.m. There were no signs of foul play, interim Police Chief Mark Harcrow said. An autopsy is underway.
Jackson was a distinctive figure downtown, often carrying a large walking stick. He made hundreds of such sticks for people over the last 30 years.
“He was a good dude – he carried a good light inside him,” Brandon Greene, founder and director of Hope Station in Palestine, told the Herald-Press Thursday. “He was always saying something witty or funny. I liked him a lot.”
Greene often gave Jackson rides, brought him coffee or blankets, or took him to Church's Chicken for a meal. Hope Station put Jackson up in a hotel for a week last year, but Greene said Jackson wasn't interested in Hope Station's longer-term programs.
“I got the impression that James thought there were strings attached to help that he didn't want,” Greene said.
Jackson has family in the area but told Herald-Press editor Jeff Gerritt last year that he preferred the freedom of sleeping and living outside. Park benches and the ground were among the beds he made. “When you stay with someone, you have to follow their rules,” he said.
Jackson's daughter, Jamie, told the Herald-Press her father suffered from mental health issues, as well as multiple health issues, including alcoholism and possibly sickle-cell anemia.
“We were told since I was a child that he was schizophrenic,” Jamie Jackson said.
Jackson was released from Anderson County Jail Tuesday, having served almost five days for criminal trespassing, a class “B” misdemeanor.
Jamie Jackson said her father had been in and out of jail for most of her life. She wishes jail officials would have called her when her father was released, especially given his health and the cold weather.
Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston told the Herald-Press the few beds available at local medical facilities for mental health prisoners are reserved for those who doctors deem to be a threat to themselves or others.
“Unfortunately, that's all we have room for,” Johnston said.
District 2 Councilman Mitchell Jordan, who has known the Jackson family for more than 20 years, said Jackson's death localizes the nation's homeless and mental health crises.
“We should treat the homelessness in our community, and those residents suffering from mental illness with dignity,” he said. “We are a faith based community, capable of showing love and compassion to all.”
Palestine has no emergency shelter programs, aside from motel vouchers offered by Hope Station. That program is not available to people who test positive for drugs, but Hope Station will take people to shelters where they can stay in Tyler and Longview. Hope Station also has a day center where people can get warm or take a shower.
Greene said some members of the community have resisted Hope Station's programs. To solve the problem of homelessness, he said, attitudes will need to change.