City extends deadline for homeless people to leave Third Street camp

Church rescinds offer to shelter homeless people

CINCINNATI -- The planned evacuation of a tent city near Third and Plum streets Downtown just got more complicated, and the city responded by giving the people living there more time before they must leave.

The church that had agreed to shelter dozens of homeless people that will be displaced after the evacuation withdrew its offer to open its doors on Thursday.

Pastor John Suguitan of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Over-the-Rhine read a prepared statement to WCPO about the decision:

"Since 1849, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church has sought to lift up all God’s people in Cincinnati. We offer Mercy Ministries in order to reflect Jesus’ love to those around us. In particular Prince of Peace has a special heart for the downtrodden, the marginalized, and the homeless. 

"When we were asked to consider opening our shelter this summer we agreed in order to help the individuals at the 3rd street camp. However, it appears that the current situation is not just a simple case of helping those in need. There are more complexities to this situation. We are a church simply trying to help those less fortunate. After understanding some of the issues involved, it appears that an alternative, well-thought out, long-term solution would be a better course of action instead of a 72 hour eviction process to a temporary shelter.

"Therefore, if allowing our shelter to be opened is not really helping those in need then we respectfully withdraw our offer to open."

During a Cincinnati City Council special session Thursday, officials approved a measure by Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard to delay the tent city evacuation. People staying there will now have until Wednesday to leave.

The question, however, is where those people will go after the encampment is closed.

"I feel like we were treated like trash instead of human beings," a homeless man who self-identified as Bison said.

Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney's original plan was for the city to provide temporary shelter at Prince of Peace and at the men's and women's shelters operated by Shelterhouse for the people displaced by the evacuation. 

Kevin Finn, CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, said that won't be feasible. Shelterhouse only has the capacity for 20 more men at its David & Rebecca Barron Center for Men in Queensgate and has no space for any more women at its Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women in Mount Auburn. Finn said Suguitan reiterated to him that Prince of Peace will not be opening its shelter, even with the few days delay.

"To some extent we're sitting down here pretending there's a solution that isn't on the table," he told WCPO during the special session of council.

On Thursday morning, a spokeswoman for Mayor John Cranley sent out a statement from City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething regarding the duties of the city manager that essentially said clearing the camp is the city manager’s decision.

“As one court observed: ‘There is no law, or ordinance, or provision of the charter conferring upon council any right, authority or duty to perform relative to the acceptance of work done under the control of the City Manager,’” according to the statement.

In a memo released Monday, Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney framed the ordered evacuation as the first step in a long process to help the people living there get into permanent housing.

The city had planned to use Prince of Peace as a temporary shelter, according to spokesman Casey Weldon. The city had planned to spend no more than $62,000 for as many as eight weeks of temporary shelter while working on a more permanent solution, Weldon said.

Finn said the community needs "to be talking about long-term solutions, not short-term gimmicks, such as adding additional shelter capacity."

"My hope would be that if such short-term gimmicks are off the table, what might happen next would be a discussion of long-term solutions," Finn said in an email to WCPO.

Dennard sent WCPO this response to the Prince of Peace statement:

"I appreciate Prince of Peace stepping up to assist the city. They are a great partner.

I'm happy that they understand that the ultimate solution aren't shelters. It's engagement to find real solutions that help people experiencing homelessness. The path forward needs to be both relationship driven and policy driven.

My colleagues and I have asked the City Manager for more time so thar we can do this right. Maybe this decision by Prince of Peace gives us more time. We need a well-thought out solutions; not another band-aid.  Hopefully, after all of this, as a City, we can get serious about affordable and income-based housing."

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 lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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