Downtown homeless camp eviction delayed

Homeless camp claims 'victory'

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Homeless people ordered to move from a Downtown pop-up camp now have until Wednesday to leave.

City Council members Tamaya Dennard and Chris Seelbach called for the special session of council Thursday to take a vote.

During the meeting, city leaders said they will meet with homeless representatives Monday to discuss long term solution.

The camp is set up around Third and Plum streets. FOX19 NOW has been told as many as 100 people are currently living underneath the Fort Washington Way Bridge.

"There's no part of me that doesn't want to make sure that everyone is safe, but there's a way to do this in a humane way where we see people for who they are," Dennard said.

Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney said he met with representatives of the camp and worked out a compromise.

"And in return for that the city will tomorrow, have the mobile health clinic come out to service some of the campers down there as well we'll provide a Porta-Potty for six days, and in addition, we're going to provide them with a dumpster so they can start getting rid of some of their things," he said.

Complicating matters even further, the pastor of an Over-the-Rhine church abruptly rescinded an offer to take dozens of the homeless.

"Since 1849, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church has sought to lift up all God's people in Cincinnati," Pastor John Suguitan said Thursday in a prepared statement.

"We offer Mercy Ministries in order to reflect Jesus' love to those around us. In particular Prince of Peace has a special heart for the downtrodden, the marginalized, and the homeless.

"When we were asked to consider opening our shelter this summer we agreed in order to help the individuals at the (Third) Street camp. However, it appears that the current situation is not just a simple case of helping those in need.

"There are more complexities to this situation. We are a church simply trying to help those less fortunate. After understanding some of the issues involved, it appears that an alternative, well-thought out, long-term solution would be a better course of action instead of a 72 hour eviction process to a temporary shelter.

"Therefore, if allowing our shelter to be opened is not really helping those in need then we respectfully withdraw our offer to open."

The pastor declined to elaborate further.

On Monday, the city gave residents of the camp a 72-hour notice to pack up their belongings and vacate, citing safety and sanitation concerns.

Mayor John Cranley released a statement Wednesday after the special meeting was called that said, in part:

"Health department officials have confirmed an outbreak of Hepatitis, instances of HIV, and needle sharing at the camp. This is a public health emergency and we are required to respond in a way that ensures safety."

"Let's just back up and think about this," said Sam Landis, founder of the nonprofit group Maslow's Army. "There isn't enough time to uplift this many people and just scatter them about."

Dennard is spearheading the effort behind Thursday's vote. She says she has the five votes necessary to put the closing of this homeless camp on hold until council can hear from the people who are impacted the most.

"I've never been homeless," she said. "A lot of people who are making this decision have never been homeless. So how can we engage the people who are most impacted by this issue to help design a way toward the solution?"

Cranley says this is not a challenge that will be solved overnight.

He said Duhaney is working to address this issue in a way that is both compassionate and practical.

On Thursday, Cranley's spokeswoman released an email from City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething to Cranley saying the city charter does not allow council to override the Duhaney's decision to close the homeless camp.

She also released a legal opinion about the power and duties of the mayor, city manage and council.

"The City Charter provides the City Manager is the, "chief conservator of the peace within the city; to supervise the administration of the affairs of the city, except as otherwise specifically provided in this charter; to see that the ordinances of the city and the laws of the state are enforced," she wrote.

"As one Court observed: "There is no law, or ordinance, or provision of the charter conferring upon council any right, authority, or duty to perform relative to the acceptance of work done under the control of the City Manager.

"Under Ohio law, the City Manager is charged with responsibility to enforce City regulations of the right of way broadly to keep city streets free from nuisances.  The City regulates the public right of way in Chapter 723 of the City Municipal Code and specifically allows for the City to temporarily barricade portions of the right of way.

"Chapter 723-83 mandates that the City barricade right of way when a hazard exists that may endanger the public.  To the extent an individual is given notice that the City is barricading and/or cleaning a portion of the right of way, that individual may be subject to temporary removal or other administrative action.

"Further, the police department has enacted a specific policy, 12.111, that allows for a 72 hour notice for an encampment removal.  Additionally, the area has been posted no trespassing for some period of time without enforcement of the otherwise applicable law.

"In this particular circumstance, there is both a health and safety rationale to clean the streets to remove a nuisance on the right of way.  
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[endif]"The City Manager has the duty to enforce the laws and keep City streets free from nuisance.

"While the City Council may pass legislation to fund or de-fund the operations of the City Administration, the Charter does not authorize the Council to constrain the City Manager's exercise of executive authority to enforce the laws of the city and the state."

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