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Continuing a battle from 2018, judge rules Hamilton County can't ban all homeless camps

Posted at 2:12 AM, Dec 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-21 02:12:30-05

CINCINNATI — In 2018, at the end of a protracted public battle between Hamilton County officials and the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, Judge Robert Ruehlman issued a court order banning homeless encampments in Hamilton County. All such encampments, including the Third Street community at the center of the conflict, would be illegal as long as any space remained in area shelters.

On Friday, an appeals court overruled him. Ruehlman had the right to ban the camps on public property, according to the court’s decision, but he couldn’t stop private property owners from hosting them as one Over-the-Rhine park had attempted to do in 2018.

Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition executive director Josh Spring, who spent that summer antagonizing city and county authorities by arguing for the camps’ right to stay, was glad to hear it.

FROM 2018: Cincinnati's tent city: What have we learned?

“We believe that our work to decriminalize homelessness is important and is to show the true value of people,” he said.

He and other advocates spent Friday night at a vigil in honor of 134 people who died while experiencing homelessness in Hamilton County. Ten years earlier, Spring said, the vigil had marked only 25 such deaths.

"This is a yearly problem,” coalition medical director Joe Kiesler said. “We know people experiencing homelessness die 20 years earlier, and for us, it is devastating."

Spring added he believes the fight is still ongoing. He would like to continue pushing back against restrictions that prevent people experiencing homelessness to sleep in public places.

Deters, who helped bring the civil nuisance action banning the camps to Ruehlman, said he thinks it’s over. The new ruling didn’t bother him, he added — the 2018 ban had been about containing the situation in 2018.

“I’m pleased with the decision,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”