CINCINNATI -- Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Over-the-Rhine is scrambling to open a temporary homeless shelter Friday for the people now living in a tent city near Third and Plum streets Downtown.
The Rev. John Suguitan said he reached an agreement Tuesday with city officials to open his church’s shelter, which is traditionally open during the cold winter months.
“There’s a lot to do in a short period of time,” he said.
Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney said in a written statement he is proceeding with plans to evacuate the tent city by Friday morning so that cleanup of the area can begin.
But Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard first told WCPO Tuesday that she is pushing to delay the evacuation of the tent city so its residents can be more involved in the discussions and better prepared for what comes next. Cincinnati City Council is scheduled hold a special session on the matter at 2:40 p.m. Thursday, according to the council clerk's office.
“We’ve got to react out of humanity,” Dennard said. “Not necessarily because people don’t like the stench or look of homelessness.”
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley released a statement Wednesday afternoon indicating that he does not favor a delay:
“Acting City Manager Duhaney’s decision to remediate the homeless encampment is made with the utmost consideration for the safety of the homeless individuals who are staying there, as well as people who live, work and visit downtown," Cranley said in the statement. "Health department officials have confirmed an outbreak of Hepatitis, instances of HIV, and needle sharing. Police are conducting investigations into human and drug trafficking. This is a public health emergency and we are required to respond in a way that ensures safety. If we do not act immediately, we put everyone at risk. This is not a challenge that will be solved overnight. Mr. Duhaney is working to address this issue in a way that is both compassionate and practical.”
Dennard said Wednesday that she already had gathered signatures from a majority of city council to delay the move. The other four council members who have signed Dennard’s motion include P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Wendell Young and Greg Landsman, she said.
City officials on Monday gave the dozens of people living in the tent city a 72-hour notice to vacate the area. In a memo explaining the move, Duhaney wrote that the encampment had become a health and safety hazard.
Dennard said that timeline doesn’t give the people there enough time to find a new place to go, whether it’s a shelter, an apartment or a new place to pitch their tents.
Councilman Greg Landsman said Tuesday that the city needs a plan to make Third Street clean and safe, “not just for the people who work and live Downtown, but also for those living in the tents.”
A solution should start with a conversation with the people staying in the tents, he said.
“And if that isn’t happening, and some level of trust isn’t being built, I think the city manager should give himself more time,” Landsman said. “But ultimately those folks deserve to be in better places.”
Meanwhile, Suguitan is working to hire and train the staff needed for the shelter at Prince of Peace. The shelter would need two staff members there the entire time it is open and a third person to help with intake at the start of each night, he said.
The plan is for the shelter to open Friday at 9 p.m., he said, and to stay open for at least six weeks and possibly eight.
The shelter would close at 7 a.m. daily. At that point, the people staying there could get a free breakfast across the street at St. Anthony Center Monday through Friday or at the church itself on Saturday or Sunday.
Suguitan said it took some time to reach an agreement to open the shelter because the church wanted assurances that the city was working on finding permanent housing for the people displaced by the tent city evacuation.
“That this wasn’t just going to Prince of Peace for six weeks and then what,” he said.
The city has agreed to fund the temporary shelter at the church, which relies on donations for its winter shelter operations, Suguitan said.
Duhaney’s spokesman, Casey Weldon, said the city has budgeted $62,000 to fund the shelter for up to eight weeks. Money for the short-term shelter will come from the city manager’s Obligations Fund.
Suguitan said the Cincinnati Police Department plans to give his church a list of the people displaced by the tent city evacuation so he knows which people are eligible for the temporary shelter.
It’s unclear, however, how many people at the tent city would go there.
Bison, the leader of the tent city near Third and Plum streets, said most of the people don't want to go to shelters for various reasons.
They would prefer either permanent housing or a place to move their tents where they can live without being displaced again, said Bison, who prefers not to use the name on his government-issued identification.
“The fact of the matter is that people don’t realize that everybody don’t want to live in a house,” he said. “Who are you to say I can’t live outside?”
His goal for the tent city community is for everyone there to get what they need, he said, whether that’s housing, a different place to pitch their tents or mental health treatment.
Dennard said one solution could be to establish a separate community, similar to a campground, where people could live in their tents and have access to toilets and garbage receptacles.
“We have to figure out what we need to do today and the long-term solutions,” she said. “It has to be driven by the people who experience homelessness.”
Information about how to help Prince of Peace Lutheran Church as it prepares the short-term shelter is available online. Maslow's Army and the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition have been helping the people who live in the tent city near Third and Plum streets. Information about how to help those organizations is available on their websites.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.
To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.