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Homeless Coalition says Cincinnati's ban on tent cities criminalizes homelessness

Posted at 11:56 PM, Nov 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-20 11:04:09-05

CINCINNATI -- Homeless Cincinnatians scattered in late August, vanishing from the public eye after a judge authorized a county-wide ban on the tent cities that had formed on Third Street and under Fort Washington Way.

Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition leader Josh Spring said that shouldn't fool anyone into thinking the problem was solved.

"It's starling to folks to learn that, increasingly, families with children are sleeping outside," he said Monday night. "It's a common occurrence now for a mom and her kids or a dad and his kids to be living outdoors, and not that long ago, that was almost unheard-of in our city."

The coalition on Monday amended a federal class-action lawsuit it had filed in early August as a response to the ban, claiming it represented a suppression of homeless Cincinnatians' rights to freedom of expression, travel and assembly, among others.

Moreover, it alleged the officials behind the ban -- Mayor John Cranley, city solicitor Paula B. Muething, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and Judge Robert Ruehlman -- acted with gross negligence when they claimed the Third Street and Fort Washington Way camps represented a public health hazard without providing evidence.

According to the suit, criminalizing homelessness when the city lacks accessible alternatives could even constitute a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Department of Housing and Urban Development statistics cited in the amended text assert Cincinnati lacks 40,000 affordable housing units, and all 11 of its shelters would be unable to care for the approximately 7,740 people who experience homelessness in the city each year.

The City of Cincinnati, Cranley, Muething, Deters, Ruehlman and the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas are all named as defendants. 

Two homeless men, Patrick Chin and Joseph Phillips, act as plaintiffs representing the broader group of displaced people in Hamilton County. Both spent time in the camps that were disassembled over the summer; both have been homeless for more than three years.

Spring said he hopes the suit will convince U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black to overturn not only the ban but the city policy governing police interactions with homeless encampments.

Said policy allows officers who find homeless people trespassing -- including on public property -- to arrest them and discard their possessions if they do not leave three days after receiving a warning. 

According to Spring, the policy creates a no-win situation for homeless people: They cannot enter a shelter or stay in public spaces. Their only courses of action are to leave or face arrest.

"If we as a city and a community weren't having to argue about people's right to exist, we could start tackling not only what happens tomorrow and next week but what happens today," he said.

READ the entire lawsuit:

Greater Cincinnati Homeless... by on Scribd