HAMILTON — Residents of Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood say they are frustrated with people they say are camping in at least two areas near them, the latest issue in the city’s efforts to stop trespassing homeless and offer help to those who need it.
Residents say homeless are congregating on the CSX property south of the new South Hamilton Crossing and in woods about three blocks west of the Sweden Creme ice cream shop.
Residents interviewed separately by the Journal-News said they have found needles discarded by drug users they believe live in those areas. They say thefts are frequent, and although they love the neighborhood, they’re considering moving away.
The city in October cleared a tent community from behind Hamilton Plaza, where people had camped for months. Although city and county employees, as well as several social-service agencies, offered help for the people to find permanent homes, residents say some have migrated to the new areas.
“There’s clearly an issue here,” said Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit. “It’s something we’re well aware of and we’re actively addressing.”
Ashley Wilson, 32, is the mother of four children, ages 10, 8, 5 and 10 months. She says before the children go out to play each day, residents check their clubhouses for used needles.
One neighbor, who is a grandfather, “found two needles in the clubhouse” in his backyard, Wilson said.
“Every day, before our kids come out and play, we have to go through our clubhouses, because they go in them at night,” Wilson said. “Everything in our yards, they’ve stolen — we can’t have anything in our yard.”
Another area resident, Tina Shepherd, said she and her husband cleaned out a friend’s garage, “and two days later, I came out of her home and somebody pointed to the ground, and there were needles behind her garage.”
Shepherd said many residents no longer feel able to take walks alone on the streets in the evening. She said six bikes were stolen from her property in an eight-week period.
“During the day, you’ll see a lot of them with their backpacks, and then at sundown they come and camp up for the night,” Wilson said.
“They know we call the police all the time on them,” she said.
Other residents have expressed the same concerns.
“It’s not good,” said Gary Shively, a Madison Avenue resident who has lived in the area with his wife, Anita, for 35 years. “The last year, it’s been hectic as hell. You’ve got people walking the streets at night, in the middle of the night, people camping out here on private property.”
“They’re stealing people’s property, bringing it back here,” he said, as he, his wife and Wilson walked through the CSX property to show where people stayed.
“All of the kids see them,” added Anita Shively. “… They’re finding needles in the yards. It just — something has to be done about it. It’s getting out of control.”
“They shut down tent city, helped all those people that they could out, and that’s great — I’m glad they did that,” she said. “But all it did was move them to other areas of town, and this happens to be where they’re ending up. Especially with that hotel (the Hamilton Inn at 1767 Dixie Highway) being torn down.”
As they walked through the open field owned by CSX, with chest-high weeds, a neighborhood boy spotted a shovel with distinctive tape on it that was taken from his property.
“You come back with a flashlight, and it’s literally like a community that we’re not welcome in,” Wilson said about the area that is mostly empty fields, with occasional lines of trees, which is where the people sleep, residents said.
Lindenwald residents are be torn by the situation. Some have advocated being quiet about the problem because it can lower property values.
Bucheit said people of the neighborhood themselves should not trespass on CSX property to deal with the problem. Instead, they should either call 911 if there’s a crime in progress, or the non-emergency line of 513-785-1300 for such things as parking issues, nuisances and other situations where crimes are not in progress.
The preferable way for Hamilton people to report situations like the one Lindenwald faces is the “311 service” reporting system, which is on the city of Hamilton’s website, www.hamilton-city.org. That can be used to report potholes, street light issues, health-department matters and non-emergency situations for police, including reports about drugs, vice and chronic criminal activity.
Bucheit offered this example of how the 311 situation can work: On Sunday, a complaint was filed about someone in the Lindenwald area. An officer on Monday checked for trespassers, “found one person there and arrested her for trespassing,” Bucheit said. The police officer “was accompanied by CSX, they verified that it’s their property, they own it, and they put in a work order to get it cleaned up,” he added.
“I’ve seen addicts stumbling around like zombies, I’ve seen people going in and out of the woods here at the end of my street. I’ve seen people stealing stuff. I’ve seen people that are clearly on drugs.”
She praised the city for a recent response to people who were camping in woods between her street and Miami University’s Hamilton campus. The crew this week cleared “a section of the woods where the camp had been, and it was a matter of simply contacting the Hamilton Police Department. They came out, they told them to leave. They left, and the very next day, they were back.”
She called police another time, and police again told the people to leave. After the city crew did its work, “there’s a large clearing now, to where they can’t put their tents back where they were” because the trees no longer hide them, she said.