Judge Bans Homeless Camps In All Of Hamilton County

Aug 8, 2018

Updated: 3:20 p.m.

Now, homeless camps are banned from all of Hamilton County by court order. 

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman signed a temporary restraining order Thursday afternoon banning encampments of the homeless from the entire county, calling them "dangerous and harmful to the health and safety of the community" and a "nuisance" as defined by Ohio law. 

It came only hours after Cincinnati Police and sheriff's deputies cleared out a homeless camp on Central Parkway across from Jack Casino early Thursday morning, saying they could do so because of the absence of a federal court order telling them they could not. 

On Wednesday, Ruehlman had signed an order banning homeless camps in an area from the Norwood Lateral to the Ohio River and between Interstate 75 and Interstate 71. 

After being removed from Central Parkway Thursday morning, many of the homeless moved their tents and set up a new camp on Gilbert Avenue, just across the street from WCPO-TV - and just outside the boundary set by Ruehlman Thursday. 

The new order from Ruehlmann covering the entire county came at the request of County Prosecutor Joe Deters, who had sought the earlier ban from Third Street that sent the homeless packing to Central Parkway. 

"This has become ridiculous, because we know there is adequate shelter space for all of these people and this just has to stop,'' Deters said. "There are many of these people who don't want to go into a shelter because, in a shelter, they have to follow the rules." 

Conditions at both the Third Street and Central Parkway camps were a health hazard to the public, said Deters, who had an affidavit from the Cincinnati Health Department to that effect. 

"You had public defacation, urination, people with HIV infections, you name it,'' Deters said. 

Bennett Allen, a lawyer for the homeless people, had not been told by the court or the prosecutor of the new order. He learned about it from WVXU. 

"At this point, I don't know what we are going to do,'' Allen said. "We are going to have to sit down and come up with a plan for what's next."

The police took the action Thursday morning on Central Parkway after a federal judge refused to issue an order that would have stopped them, at least temporarily. 

Assistant Police Chief Paul Neudigate, who was supervising the removal of at least 20 tents and their occupants, said that U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Black did not issue a temporary restraining order, which he said means the order issued Tuesday by Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman to clear out the homeless camp and banning it from re-forming in a large area of the city is in effect. 

Allen confirmed to WVXU Thursday morning that Black had denied their request for a temporary restraining order, which would have overruled Ruehlman's order for the time being. 

On Tuesday, Ruehlman gave local government the authority to break up any homeless camp south of the Norwood Lateral, and between Interstates 71 and 75. Attorneys representing the plaintiffs asked for a restraining order from Black.

Homeless advocate Josh Spring said Wednesday there's nowhere for people to go.

"If there's enough beds, we wouldn't be having this conversation because nearly everybody here would be in those beds. We know there's not. We just have to show that," Spring says.

Neudigate said Thursday morning there are beds available at local shelters. Social workers were on the scene Thursday as the homeless people started packing up their property. 

If Black had issued a temporary restraining order on Ruehlman's order, the homeless people could have returned to their original camp along Third Street downtown, at least as long as the federal lawsuit the homeless filed against the city of Cincinnati was still in court. 

In a conference call with Judge Black Wednesday morning, the directors of two local shelters said while they were at capacity, they do have extra room and could find space for those living in tents along Central Parkway. Judge Black said he wanted affidavits before 5 p.m.

The city and county argue the camp and others like it pose a public health risk, and local shelters are available.

The plaintiffs argue there isn't enough room at local shelters.
Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU

Homeless advocate Brian Garry says shelters may have enough room for the homeless people Downtown, but not everywhere in the county.

"Do you know how many encampments there are?" he asks. "Do you know there are encampments in Oakley, in Pleasant Ridge, and in Madisonville and in all kinds of places that are in the areas they've defined? There are homeless people in many, many places. Sometimes you can't see them, sometimes you can."