CINCINNATI -- No arrests were made on the first night of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department's implementation of a new plan to remove the homeless from sleeping in front of the county's justice center and courthouse.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil has made the issue of area homelessness a priority in recent months, meeting with the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition regularly since August to discuss solutions.
On any given night, 50 to 60 homeless people sleep on county property like the Hamilton County Courthouse.
Part of Neil’s approach includes implementing a three-phase plan that consists of working with social services, moving the homeless and cleaning and repairing the county's property.
But when coalition members say they were told homeless people sleeping near the buildings would be removed and threatened with arrest beginning Thursday, action was taken in the form of a lawsuit and restraining order.
The restraining order asked the court to prohibit Sheriff Jim Neil “from arresting homeless individuals who sleep, gather and rest overnight on the plazas” surrounding the courthouse and adjacent justice center. In a blow to the coalition, a judge denied the order late Wednesday.
The sheriff's office’s plan to remove the homeless began Thursday night.
Gathered in front of the courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Shafter Jinks and other advocates for the homeless announced their lawsuit.
Jinks, who has been homeless off and on for the last three years, said those who sleep near the courthouse go there because they feel safe.
"I dealt with Washington Park. I was attacked in Washington Park physically, so I found this was a safer place to be," Jinks said.
Many sleep side-by-side in closed off entry ways near the courthouse to stay warm, Jinks added.
"I've slept in any one of these doorways,” he said. “I've used the benches -- as you see, they have several."
But the sheriff’s office says the men and women who have sought shelter around the courthouse have left urine and feces and pose a serious health threat to the surrounding community.
"The courthouse is sort of like sacred ground,” Jinks said. “It is where we come as citizens to plea our case and by sleeping in front of the courthouse it is sort of like saying to our brothers and sisters we need assistance…Would we rather have a discussion about where people defecate or would we rather have our government spend time on creating jobs and housing?"
A spokesman for the sheriff says the deputies have no intention of arresting the homeless or bringing them to the justice center.
As for Jinks, he said he doesn't have a better place to sleep just yet.
"I don't have the funds to sustain housing…I've had housing, but because of my financial situation, I was unable to maintain it -- which brought me back (to the courthouse),” Jinks said. “This is the safest place I knew to go."