CINCINNATI – While the city closed one downtown homeless encampment Wednesday, another group living in tents along a five-block stretch of Third Street insisted they won’t leave if the city tries to evict them, too.
“They want to get rid of us. Well, we’re not going. We’re not going. We’re not going, ” said a man who identified himself as Desmond, speaking at a noon news conference on Third Street.
Watch the press conference in the player below:
Executive Director Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, who organized the news conference, said services available to people experiencing homeless are "unbearably limited." But the city’s answer is to drive them away, he said.
“Nothing is getting solved by this,” Spring said.
Spring said the city needs to implement "big solutions" to alleviate homelessness.
"It is time that we create an affordable housing trust fund," Spring said. "It is time that we create a bill of rights so that we protect people's right to be, instead of pushing people further to the margins.
"We must do better. We must do better at offering the services that are available, at meeting people where they’re at," Spring said. "The city said we’re going to bring services to assist the people under the bridge. Last night at 4 a.m., there were still people under the bridge."
At the news conference, a half dozen people living on Third Street praised the “family” and “community” they’ve created there and lashed out at city officials for not finding a solution to the homelessness problem.
“We’re sick of being shuffled around the city,” said a woman who didn’t identify herself. “I was under the bridge this morning at 6:30 when they showed up to put us out. Luckily these people invited me up here to their community and I fell I have somewhere stable right now.
“You guys are trying to hide the problem. You need to fix the problem.”
The big problem is mental health, Desmond said, and a public misconception about homelessness.
“There's a mental health issue, not a drug issue. There’s a mental health issue that everybody wants to hide,” he said. “Throwing crackers on the ground and socks, that’s all good. But we're homeless down here. Somebody’s got to help them with their problem, and that problem is mental health.”
Dale Edmonds, who said he has been living on Third Street for 3 ½ years, said people of means should be more willing to help.
“They say I have a mental disorder. OK, if I do, then help me address it, man,” Edmonds said. “We’ve got people in this city who make millions of dollars a year ... If I’ve got a mental issue or a social issue or a disease, then help me with that. Don’t kick me to the curb and say, ‘You’re not worth living,’ because that’s not fair.”
Constance Ransom, who also lives in a tent on Third Street, told WCPO nobody wins by scattering the homeless throughout the city.
"I understand nobody wants us down here, but they really don't want to release 200 people into the city having no place to go," she said. "As far as communities go, this is one of the closest ones I have met. Everybody looks out for each other."
READ city's update on Third and Plum eviction below.
All the people living under the Third and Plum overpass left on their own before the 8 a.m. Wednesday deadline. Erica Faaborg, chief counsel for the city's quality of life division, said fewer than a dozen people were still there by the time workers showed up.
Workers power washing underneath the overpass at 3rd and Plum. All of the residents left voluntarily without being cited or arrested. @WCPOpic.twitter.com/INVFw4FT08
Workers arrived about 6:45 a.m. with trash trucks and Bobcats. Wearing masks and protective clothing, they began clearing out the tents and throwing away anything that was left behind. Then they power washed the entire area before they putting up a new fence to keep everyone out.
For months, nearby residents and business owners complained about the trash and unsightly unsanitary conditions there. Neighbor Tim Holcomb told WCPO that fellow residents had witnessed public sex, public urination and defecation, drug use and fights among the people staying there.
"It's frustrating," he said. "I'm sure it's frustrating for those that are living without the means to take care of themselves, but it's also frustrating for the 15,000 or so that call downtown Cincinnati home."
A number of the camp's residents have found their way to shelters and rehab, according to Samuel Landis, who runs the anti-poverty organization Maslow's Army. Others, however, said they didn't feel comfortable staying in a shelter.
Landis, told WCPO on Sunday that the city had agreed to let those people move to another location; Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney later released a statement denying that claim and saying only that there had been "a productive conversation" surrounding alternatives to the city's plan of a mandatory evacuation.
"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," Duhaney wrote.
That wasn't the first false start advocates for members of the camp had experienced. When Duhaney first announced the planned removal of the camp, he did so in a memo claiming the residents would be diverted to area shelters. The problem? The city hadn't actually reached an agreement with any.
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Over-the-Rhine had agreed to open a temporary shelter for about 40 of the camp's residents but later retracted the offer, with its pastor saying it did not look like the temporary shelter would be helpful.
Timyka Artist and Ashley Zilka contributed to this report.