ACLU sues to overturn homeless camp ban

ACLU sues to overturn homeless camp ban
Homeless camps like this one near JACK Casino off Central Parkway in downtown Cincinnati are banned in Hamilton County. (Photo: FOX19 NOW/file)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio wants an appeals court to throw out a judge’s order banning homeless camps in Hamilton County.

The ACLU sued Thursday to try to overturn an injunction Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman issued in August.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of New Prospect Baptist Church in the First District Court of Appeals. Read the entire lawsuit here.

It claims groups like the church, which serves the homeless, were not given opportunities to participate in the case or address the judge.

Ruehlman issued the ban on the condition that there is space available in local shelters.

That’s a condition also included in a federal judge’s order on the issue.

U.S. District Court Judge Tim Black ruled against an earlier challenge to Ruehlman’s ban and said police could make arrests for public homelessness.

But the judge added the stipulation that the ban could only be enacted if there was room in local shelters.

Ruehlman blocked homeless camps after Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters sued the city of Cincinnati to shut down an encampment on Third Street Downtown.

The camp simply moved elsewhere Downtown, moving onto Central Parkway near JACK Casino and then over to a park off Gilbert Avenue.

Homeless stay put near casino while judge ponders their fate

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Deters and other city leaders have repeatedly said the homeless encampments threaten the public’s health and safety.

City officials insist there are beds and other resources available for the homeless with local shelters and social service agencies.

But some homeless advocates dispute that, pointing out that now shelters feel the need to take everyone and the real problem has not been solved.

“The sweeping County-wide ban is illegal and must be overturned,” said Joe Mead, volunteer attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, in a news release.

“The judge lacked the jurisdiction to issue this unlawful, improper, and over-broad ban. It also does nothing to address the extremely high rates of homelessness in Hamilton County.”

New Prospect Baptist Church, he said, serves people in need and has offered its privately-owned property to people experiencing homelessness in need of a place to stay, yet the ban mandates that anyone maintaining such an encampment should be arrested.

“The injunction stands as a roadblock between New Prospect and its mission to provide aid for people experiencing homelessness. According to the ban, New Prospect’s religious mission, conducted charitably on private property, is now considered a criminal act."

“Arresting people for seeking shelter in a tent will not address the problem," Mead said.

“Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials cannot criminalize and ban their way out of this crisis using a manufactured lawsuit, and should be working to find proactive, safe, and just housing solutions for all its residents.”

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