Sheriff plans to remove homeless from county property, provide help

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The homeless sleeping on or near the Hamilton County Courthouse are eventually going to have to find a new place to sleep at night.

Officials say they've received numerous complaints of garbage and people urinating on county property.

On Thursday, Sheriff Jim Neil announced a new plan to help these people out. The three-phased initiative intends to provide treatment to those in need while cleaning up the various properties.

Addiction, economic hardship or a mental illness are just three factors that can lead individuals to become homeless.

Rick Schulte and Jessica Pandozzi have slept at the courthouse a few times, and they say drugs are the biggest issue.

"Heroin is an epidemic in this city, and they're not addressing the issue and that's the biggest homeless issue," Schulte told FOX19.

During phase one, deputies will allow the homeless to sleep outside county property and use restrooms in the justice center, but they're also beginning an outreach program.

"There will be communication with the homeless population to identify who they are and what their needs are to determine their purpose for being on the campus," Sheriff Neil explained.

After about a month, phase two begins. This is when the county will pair the homeless with human service professionals to help them with their problem. If they refuse help and continue to sleep on county property, they'll be kicked out.

"Arrest is always a last resort but the idea is to find real-time solutions for the population," said Neil.

"Some of them are going to turn it away and not want the help. They enjoy living like this but you have a lot of people that don't want to live like this no more," Schulte said.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and county administration are both putting $20,000 into this initiative to hire neighborhood liaison officers that will help patrol these buildings around the clock.

"I know for a fact a lot of people would jump all over the opportunity to get clean and get their life back and be a productive member of society again. It's not like we've all been like this our whole lives," said Schulte.

Pandozzi says they know 90% of the people that stay overnight at the courthouse on a regular basis, and she hopes the outreach goes the extra mile for those that welcome it.

"If you don't have any help afterwards, they're going to be right back out here on the streets so I don't think it's really going to do anything unless they find long term help for people," she said.

"This is a problem that's not going to go away and that we have to deal with it in a long term way," added Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann.

Sheriff Neil says they're trying to use a soft and compassionate approach with this plan. He adds this is something that will help the homeless, but it's also about the people that use these buildings everyday to make sure it's safe and clean for everyone.

Depending on how phases one and two go, the sheriff's office will begin phase three which includes cleaning and repairing the county properties.

The Hamilton County Courthouse is located near the intersection of Main Street and Central Parkway in downtown Cincinnati.

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