Deters to OTR homeless camp: Get out by noon Thursday

Deadline today for OTR homeless camp to move

A homeless camp on private property in Over-the-Rhine must be cleared out by noon Thursday, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced Wednesday.

Anyone who is still there after the deadline will be arrested, he told our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

This comes a week after Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters repeatedly went to court to close a camp Downtown on Third Street and on Central Parkway after it moved there.

When it moved just north of Downtown into Mt. Adams, Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman banned homeless camps altogether in the county.

"We decided they have until Thursday," Deters told The Enquirer. "Then they can deal with Ruehlman."

Joe Phillips, a homeless man who unsuccessfully sued to stop Ruehlman's ban, said camp residents have applied for housing so they can get off the streets.

Dozens of people from the original homeless camp on Third Street have moved to shelters or dispersed to less conspicuous locations around the city. Others, like Phillips, say they're still looking for a place to go. Some shelters restrict access based on sex, age or criminal records.

"We're trying to survive," said Phillips, 30, who said he was kicked out of the Shelterhouse for missing curfew and has been on the streets for three weeks. He said he came Downtown, "because that's where the services are."

Phillips was one of three camp residents who spoke at a 3:30 p.m. news conference at the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition office on 12th Street.

Josh Spring, the coalition's executive director, was asked what's next for the residents.

"I don't think the group knows what it's going to do next?" he said. "There may be no way to comply. We may be at the end of the road."

Spring, coalition staff, camp residents and a coalition attorney were meeting privately after the news conference.

Deters said he believes homeless advocates have been acting in good faith to find space in shelters for people in the camps, but the judge wants his order enforced.

At the news conference, Spring and the three camp residents said everyone remaining in the camp has applied for housing.

Deters said Cincinnati police have been receiving nuisance complaints about the Over-the-Rhine camp that involve drug use and public urination. "There are police runs down there for all kinds of nonsense," Deters said.

Spring disagreed at the news conference, saying that the county is overreaching by telling people what they can or can't do on their own property.

Deters also said the ban on camps applies to private property, as well as public property. The corner lot currently occupied by the homeless is owned by a subsidiary of Over-The-Rhine Community Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing agency.

Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness, which manages state and federal money earmarked for homeless care and prevention, said having the camp on private property is "awkward. … Litigation is not the answer. What has been paid in legal fees could have provided housing for everyone in the camp."

Homeless Coalition attorneys met with the city solicitor's office Wednesday morning. Spring characterized the meeting as positive.

"The city said it wants to work together to try to find ways to help people who are sleeping outside have quicker and more reasonable access to housing," Spring said. "We are working on ways to reduce barriers.

Ruehlman first imposed the ban early last week when he outlawed camps in an area around the Third Street camp. Then the people moved to Central Parkway near Jack Casino. When forced to move again, they migrated outside the judge's boundary – east of Interstate 71 in a public park on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills. The judge then expanded the ban for all of Hamilton County, and the camp relocated to the private park  Over-the-Rhine.

Homeless advocates appealed to federal court, but U.S. District Judge Timothy Black ruled that the bans could be enforced as long as there was enough room in shelters for those in the camps.

For Sunshine, a woman living in the OTR camp, using a shelter is not an option while she waits for housing because she doesn't want to be separated from her husband.

She said she is on a waiting list for housing and said it isn't possible to find a secure place to stay overnight.

"To be told I can't go camping or sleep outside on private property is just unbelievable," she said.

Sunshine now has less than 24 hours to leave 13th and Republic. She doesn't know where she and her husband will go next.

"Maybe Deters would like to invite us over," she said.