Judge blocks restraining order that would have allowed people to stay at homeless camp

Posted at 10:38 AM, Aug 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-09 14:36:12-04

CINCINNATI -- A federal judge Thursday blocked a restraining order that would have allowed people living at a homeless camp to stay put, according to Holly Sutz-Smith, Mayor John Cranley's deputy chief of staff.

Cincinnati police moved nearly two dozen people from a homeless camp near JACK Casino Thursday morning as the judge considered the temporary restraining order, which was requested by the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.

Some people living in the camp immediately moved to an area on Gilbert Avenue, across the street from WCPO. They are just outside the boundary designated by the city.

Several social service agencies assisted people in the move. The city of Cincinnati provided people with trucks and a storage facility downtown for some of their belongings.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black had been considering arguments from the various parties involved Wednesday after the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition amended its federal lawsuit against the city.

The advocacy group claimed city and county officials are essentially making it illegal to be homeless in the city. They said the local governments would "rather threaten people without homes with arrest for existing in public space" than focus on solutions.

Police and deputies had been poised to make people living in the camp in Pendleton across from the casino leave, or arrest them, before a conference call with Judge Black and parties in the case Wednesday.

"We are hoping for an expedited ruling from Judge Black," said Julie Wilson with the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office. "Judge Black gave us an indication that he would be ruling on this quickly so we can take action tomorrow. Bottom line, we anticipate taking action tomorrow."

Josh Spring, the Homeless Coalition's executive director, said in a news release Wednesday the people living in a homeless encampment updated their lawsuit to add more defendants to the case. The suit now names Hamilton County, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and the Court of Common Pleas in addition to the city.

Mayor John Cranley asked for Deters' help last week after an unsuccessful effort to remove a camp along Third Street. Deters took the issue to court Monday, getting Common Pleas Judge Robert P. Ruehlman to declare the Downtown camps a nuisance. He issued a temporary restraining order that directed the city to close them down.

Initially, the order applied to any encampment south of a line along Central Parkway drawn from roughly the Mill Creek to Mount Adams, so many in the camp moved just north of that line. They set up their tents on public land near JACK Cincinnati Casino, another major entrance to Downtown.

Then Tuesday, the judge agreed to a larger boundary, containing the area between Interstate 75, Interstate 71 and the Norwood Lateral. That includes Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Uptown, but not places like Mount Adams, the Price Hill neighborhoods, Hyde Park or Sedamsville.

"This order by the state court makes it such that within three quarters of the City if you are without a home and live outside, you cannot avoid being accused of committing a crime and being at risk of arrest," Spring said.

Last week, the Homeless Coalition asked Judge Black to block the city from moving people experiencing homelessness from the former campsite on Third Street between Main and Walnut. Black denied the request; the lawsuit, however, is still pending. 

On Tuesday, a Cincinnati City Council committee approved a motion that seeks to form a working group to address the issue. The working group would include representatives from the city and Hamilton County as well as people from the homeless camps and Downtown residents, among others. It gives the group 60 days to come up with a plan for people who can't, or won't, go into shelters.

"This is something I'm laser beam-focused on," said Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard. "People want a solution tomorrow, and it's not going to happen tomorrow."

That's why the 60-day deadline is so important, she said.

The full council must approve the motion before it goes into effect. But because it has the signatures of six council members, Councilman Greg Landsman asked for work to begin as quickly as possible.

WCPO will update this story.