CINCINNATI — Ohio’s First District Court of Appeals has ruled that New Prospect Baptist Church can proceed with its legal challenge to a Hamilton County judge’s ban on outdoor homeless camps.
The court’s Jan. 24 decision paves the way for legal arguments to continue in the case, which has the potential to end Hamilton County’s controversial homeless camp ban.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman issued the ban in August following weeks of debate over homeless people living in tents on public property and sidewalks Downtown.
The ban prohibits outdoor homeless camps from public and private property throughout Hamilton County as long as local shelters have space to accommodate people experiencing homelessness.
Proponents of the ban have argued that local homeless shelters have space, but many advocates for the homeless say the shelters are almost always over capacity.
Joe Mead, a lawyer for the ACLU of Ohio , represents New Prospect Baptist Church in the case. He argued on Jan. 23 that the ban “poses a substantial threat” to the church’s ability to “fulfill its religious mission.”
But Christian Schaefer, an assistant county prosecutor representing Ruehlman, argued the church had no standing in the case.
The three-judge appeals court panel sided with New Prospect, ruling that the church does have standing.
Mead called the decision "a positive development" in the church's challenge to the ban.
"We're continuing the fight to see this improper injunction overturned," he told WCPO.
Julie Wilson, Hamilton County's chief assistant prosecutor and spokesperson for the prosecutor's office, told WCPO the prosecutor's office "will follow the scheduling order and proceed with the case in the First District."
The court gave the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office until Feb. 22 to file an answer in the case. The court will allow the county and the lawyers for New Prospect Baptist Church to file briefs on the merits of the case in April.
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 reach Lucy, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.