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ACLU Files Lawsuit Over Hamilton County's Ban On Homeless Camps

Bill Rinehart
The Third Street homeless camp moved to a strip of land near Jack Casino before being permanantly dismantled.

The ACLU of Ohio is suing a Hamilton County judge over an August ruling banning homeless encampments. The group filed the mandamus action with the First District Court of appeals Thursday morning on behalf of New Prospect Baptist Church.Judge Robert Ruehlman issued the ban in August following a lawsuit by Hamilton County against the City of Cincinnati. The city requested the action as a way to deal with a homeless camp along Third Street. The ACLU is challenging the order and wants it vacated.

"The sweeping county-wide ban is illegal and must be overturned," says Joe Mead, volunteer attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, in a statement. "The judge lacked the jurisdiction to issue this unlawful, improper, and over-broad ban."

Mead tells WVXU the church wants to help people experiencing homelessness but it can't because of an overly broad injunction it had no chance to participate in. Since the city asked to be sued, Mead says there weren't really two parties seeking opposite outcomes.

Julie Wilson with the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office says the department is reviewing the filing and has no comment at this time.

According to the ACLU, a writ of mandamus allows groups affected by an action - in this case New Prospect Baptist Church - to seek redress from a lower court order.

The Back Story

A homeless camp sprang up along Third Street earlier this summer, prompting health and safety complaints from some and calls for more help for the homeless from others. Cincinnati officials were met with resistance when plans were made to clear the camp.

The Third Street camp was dismantled and the site cleaned, but the inhabitants soon returned. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley then asked County Prosecutor Joe Deters to take action.

Deters filed for a temporary restraining order to keep the camp out of Downtown, which Judge Ruehlman granted on August 6. After inhabitants moved to a plot of land near Jack Casino, the order was expanded to include a larger area. Ultimately the judge issued an order banning encampments in the entire county.