Homeless file lawsuit against Hamilton Co. Sheriff's Dept.

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The courthouse steps are a sleeping place for many homeless people every night.  But, come Thursday, that'll change.

The homeless have found comfort for 30 years sleeping in front of the courthouse and justice center, the coalition explains. However, The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition states that Sheriff Jim Neil has threatened arrest to the homeless found sleeping on the premises.

The coalition believes that people should not be threatened with arrest and removal for being homeless. However, officers say that this is a public health issue because of urination and defecation at the courthouse.

"I understand why they're doing it.  They don't want us here.  But, that doesn't justify or make it right," said Shafter Jinks, who sleeps on the courthouse steps, and is one of the lawsuit's plaintiffs.

"I don't know how it got to this point.  I was surprised to hear of the intensity of the situation," said Jim Tarbell, a former city council member.

Tarbell, a former council member and vice mayor, was also a longtime business owner who has seen his share of homelessness in the city.  He sees the security of the courthouse as number one, but getting the homeless help is the next step.

"If they're here because they feel safe, then we need to work on places that don't pose these challenges, where they can also be safe," added Tarbell.

One of those places is the Drop Inn Center. Officials there say they serve 2,200 people every year.

"We serve homeless folks every day.  We have space in our shelter.  Last night, we were at about 80% occupancy," said Arlene Nolan, executive director of the Drop Inn Center.

Some of the homeless say they feel safe at the courthouse.  However, there are concerns over some shelters, including the Drop Inn Center, among the homeless.

"They're dealing with all kinds of homeless.  They're dealing with prisoners, people that have been up in prison for a couple of years, has nothing else to lose," said one homeless man.

Shelter providers don't see the streets as a safe alternative, though.

FOX19 asked, "The Drop Inn Center is a safe place for these people?"

"We believe it, and we know it is," Nolan replied.

The Drop Inn Center is one of many organizations the sheriff's office is working with to connect the homeless with services.

In response, the The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition has decided to sue the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department.

The sheriff's office had no comment on the lawsuit, as it is pending litigation.  But, they do plan on going forward with their enforcement plan on Thursday.

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