City moves to clear out another homeless camp in downtown Cincinnati

CINCINNATI -- The city cleared out one homeless camp Downtown July 25. A second could be gone within days.

Police served notices Tuesday afternoon to people living outdoors along Third Street, city spokesman Casey Weldon said. Those notices give people 72 hours to remove their property from the area and warn that anything left behind will be considered abandoned. The area will be "closed for cleaning and maintenance" starting at 2 p.m. Friday until work is complete.

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Capt. Mike Neville, commander of the police department's Central Business District, said there was no "directive" to clear out the camp.

A notice left under a tent on Third Street Downtown.

"It's more of a dialogue, understanding each person's need and moving forward from there," Neville said. "Really, sometimes I think people don't think this is for them. It really is for them as much as it is for everybody else."

Sam and Susan Landis, co-founders of the anti-poverty and homeless advocacy group Maslow's Army, said they thought the police department's actions Tuesday went much more smoothly than two weeks ago, when officers showed up early one morning to give notices to a group of homeless people who'd been living in tents under an overpass near Third and Plum streets.

That evacuation was controversial from the start, and Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney ultimately gave people there several additional days to leave.

On Tuesday, police officers delivered notices in the afternoon, and Susan Landis said she heard Neville ask officers not to enter tents.

"In my opinion, it doesn't seem like it's a sneak attack if it's during the day and people are awake and see it coming," she said. "Even though it is a 72-hour notice, I think they're handling it the best way they can from a human aspect."

The group living along Third Street, calling itself "The Colony Cincinnati," issued a list of demands Monday through the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.

Among their demands: three public restrooms with showers, as well as at least city four garbage cans per block.

They also said they wanted the city to start discussions about a "Homeless Bill of Rights" and for the city to restart a working group on affordable housing.

Even so, a man named Desmond who identified himself as the leader of the camp said he didn't have a problem with the 72-hour notices. He only wished the city had involved the group and identified a new location for anyone in the group that wanted or needed to continue living outside.

"We're not trying to save The Colony. We're trying to save lives," he said. "We're not going against the mayor. We're not going against anybody. Let's save lives."

Sam Landis, left, helped Jerry Grant find a homeless shelter so he could leave the camp along Third Street.

Desmond estimated that about 55 people were staying in the tents in five city blocks along Third Street. Sam Landis said that 14 people already have left the camp to get into rehab programs or shelters.

Jerry Grant, who said he had been living at the camp for about six months, was one of them. Maslow's Army helped him get into a shelter Tuesday afternoon.

"It's a weight off my shoulders," Grant said. "Now the ony thing I need is that job."

Kasper Wade said he had only been at the camp for a few weeks and said he planned to use a disability check that he will receive Wednesday to get a place to live. Wade said he hopes to take a few people from the encampment with him. Mainly, Wade said he wanted to extend thanks to the local people and nonprofit organizations that have helped those living along Third Street.

"We wouldn't have been able to keep our heads above water without that," he said.

Wade also stressed that the people living in tents have been working to keep the area clean and monitor the behavior of everyone staying in the community.

"Not everyone down here is sticking a needle in their arm," he said. "Most of us are too poor to afford drugs. I can't afford a cigarette let alone, you know, any other kind of drug."

The number of people living in tents along Third Street's sidewalk has grown in recent weeks. Police and public works employees cleared out the encampment near Third and Plum last Wednesday. Not long after, tents popped up near the Lytle Tunnel because, advocates say, the homeless have nowhere else to go.

Desmond said he hopes city leaders can look at the issue differently and see The Colony as a model. He argued that if the city would approve a location where people living outside could legally pitch their tents during the warmer months, it could give them a chance to live rent free while they save up money from whatever jobs they can find and try to work their way out of poverty.

"We could clean up Cincinnati with this," he said. "Just give us a location."

Local leaders need to develop some kind of strategy that is more focused on finding people more permanent homes, Susan Landis said.

"To keep moving it down the road is not helping," she said.

Desmond, the leader of The Colony, in front of his tent along Third Street Downtown.

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 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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