CINCINNATI -- Uncertainty once again surrounds the homeless encampment near Third and Plum streets Downtown.
The city gave the people living there until Wednesday to leave. Samuel Landis, president and co-founder of homeless outreach group Maslow's Army, told WCPO over the weekend that some would move their tents to a new location east of Downtown with the approval of city officials.
They expected to pack up Tuesday.
Then Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney threw a wrench those plans, saying there was no such agreement. He issued the following a statement Monday evening:
“Earlier today we received word that some confusing misinformation had made its way to the media regarding the Third Street camp and those currently living there. I want to help clarify what occurred and the City Administration’s position on the matter."
“On Friday, a group consisting of myself, a Councilmember and members of the Administration met with members of the Third Street camp to discuss their ideas for a possible long-term solution. A productive conversation took place but no decision was made and nothing was agreed to by the City. We look forward to more productive conversations in the future. However, the plan outlined during Council on Thursday, and then later in an FYI memo to the Mayor and Council, remains the only plan in place at this time.
To reiterate: We have not agreed to support relocating anyone from the camp to anywhere other than a designated shelter and/or a more permanent housing situation. This plan does not include any City support for relocating individuals to a new or different camp. The City has not agreed to let anyone or asked anyone to relocate the camp to any other part of Cincinnati."
Landis said Monday night that his organization will continue to work with city officials on long-term solutions for the people who have been living in the tent city, adding that he remains optimistic everyone still can move out of the area in question.
"The people that want to stay on the street, they know of some of the places that exist where they can go," he said.
A number of people who had been staying at the encampment already have left, either because they entered detox programs, found permanent housing with the help of local service providers or found other places to stay, Landis said in an interview.
"Fortunately, with the extra time we bought, there's been some good progress made. The individuals down there are pretty optimistic there will be a resolution soon," Landis told WCPO. "But the move has to be quiet. There are spots picked out, but those are things that are supposed to be very private for their safety."
Shortly after 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, Landis emailed WCPO the following statement:
"We are surprised and frustrated by the statement issued by the Acting City Manager. As disheartened as we are, we remain more committed than ever to advocate for the human rights and basic needs of people experiencing homelessness and poverty, including those who want or need to live outside.
"Throughout this process, we have been working with the Acting City Manager and several Members of City Council in good faith. On Thursday, we helped negotiate a compromise between them and the people residing in the tent city in the underpass near 3rd and Plum Streets. The Acting City Manager verbally agreed to allow some of the residents of the tent city to move to a new location if Bison got the residents to vacate the current location by Wednesday. Accordingly, on Friday, Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney and Councilman Greg Landsman spent about 45 minutes driving around downtown with Bison and me scoping out potential locations to which residents of the tent city could relocate. They repeatedly expressed their support and approval for us to find a suitable location for the people who want or need to remain outside. They stated that they would work with us to draft and approve new ordinances and/or permitting processes but that Bison had their tacit approval to relocate in the meantime as a temporary solution.
"During the Council Meeting Thursday afternoon, Councilwoman Dennard agreed to convene a meeting on Monday with all key parties involved, including the leader of the tent city, Maslow’s Army, the Homeless Coalition, downtown residents, the Acting City Manager, her and other Members of Council to discuss and agree to specific next steps for the smooth relocation of the residents of the tent city. Unfortunately, yesterday they refused to hold such a meeting and instead only hosted a choreographed photo op at the tent city.
"In hindsight, we should have required that these agreements be put in writing. We will be working with the Homeless Coalition and others to ensure that the City follows through on their commitment to treat these people with the compassion and dignity they deserve."
The encampment has been a source of controversy since Duhaney released a memo July 16 saying that the city would be evacuating the camp in 72 hours and that the area would be cleaned up and fenced off on July 20.
That memo stated that the people living at the camp would be moved to homeless shelters, but the city didn’t have agreements with any shelters to house the people who would be displaced until July 17. That’s the day city officials reached a deal with Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Over-the-Rhine to open temporary shelter for about 40 people who had been staying at the tent city under Fort Washington Way.
By July 19, the church had withdrawn its offer to open the temporary shelter, with its pastor saying that the temporary shelter did not look like it would be helpful to those living at the encampment.
Later that same day, a majority of Cincinnati City Council approved a motion asking Duhaney to delay the evacuation of the encampment. Duhaney agreed to an extension and said the area would not be cleared until July 25.
Over the weekend, Landis said people staying at the camp had agreed to move a day early in a show of good faith and said they would set up their tents at an undisclosed location east of Downtown that was acceptable to the city. Duhaney's statement was issued in response to media reports containing those assertions.
Landis appealed for help moving the community’s tents and belongings, and a local CEO on Sunday volunteered to use his company’s trucks to help with the move. Landis said he is hopeful that CEO still will be able to help so the evacuation is orderly.
Residents of the camp worked throughout the day Monday, Landis said, to start cleaning up the area along with volunteers from Maslow’s Army, the nonprofit that Landis and his wife, Susan, founded to help people experiencing homelessness with basic needs such as food and clothing.
Arlene Nolan, the executive director of Shelterhouse, said city officials last week gave her a list of 22 names of people staying at the tent city and asked whether the two emergency homeless shelters operated by her organization could accommodate them.
Nolan said she told city officials that the Shelterhouse shelters could take 20 of the people on the list. Two of the people on the list are not permitted to stay at the shelters for various reasons, she said.
“You can’t make people go to a shelter,” she said. “I just think there needs to be more doing and less speaking when it comes to this stuff.”
You can read Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney's July 20 memo below.
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. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.
To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.