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Coalition Asks To Expand Lawsuit On County's Homeless Camp Ban

Bill Rinehart
After being displaced from Third Street this summer, some homeless moved to a spot near Jack Casino. This camp was also disassembled.

The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is asking a federal court to amend a lawsuit seeking relief from a court order banning homeless camps in Hamilton County. The group is asking to join the suit filed in October by the ACLU of Ohio.

The coalition also seeks to add several claims, including gross negligence, interfering with civil rights and sham legal process. The county prosecutor's office has asked the lawsuit be thrown out all together.

Sincethe ban took effect this summer, Executive Director Josh Spring says some people experiencing homelessness are telling the coalition they're afraid and have "gone into hiding."

"Mothers who tell us 'I'm staying in the car with my children and now we park our car in dark parking lots so the police can't find us because we don't want our kids to be taken away,' " he says. "You can imagine most mothers, in addition to not wanting to live outside in a car with their children, wouldn't want to choose a dark space to do it in but they have done so to protect their kids."

Spring argues the camping ban criminalizes people for being human and having human needs.

"Telling folks that if you do the things that humans have to do to live like sleep, rest, use the bathroom ... if you do those things you can be arrested and charged with a crime, that's the same as saying, 'You're not a human.' Humans have to do those things, and if you don't have a home in which to do those things, you have to do them outside. It's just that simple."

Homeless Shelter Capacity

Those who support the county and City of Cincinnati's position in asking for the ban argue there is room for those living outdoors in the various homeless shelters.

The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition disagrees. It presented numbers Wednesday suggesting there are more than 400 people experiencing homelessness beyond the 660 beds (that includes overflow space) available in shelters.

"(Of) families with children calling, seeking shelter on an average day (in Oct. 2018), 88 percent are turned away," Spring says. "Fifty-four percent of single adults are turned away on an average day in 2018."

In addition to space constraints, a shelter can turn single adults away for other reasons, too. No shelters in the county will accept a couple who don't have children and let them stay together as a couple. Those convicted of a sex crime also are ineligible.  

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 Aug. 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.

The ACLU of Ohio filed suit against the county Oct. 18, asking the First District Court of appeals to overturn the ban. Later that month, the county filed a request to have the suit thrown out.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.