Inhabitants of Over-the-Rhine Tent City Must Vacate or Face Arrest

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has ordered the camp, which is on private property, to be packed up by tomorrow

click to enlarge Tent City on 13th Street in Over-the-Rhine - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Tent City on 13th Street in Over-the-Rhine

Residents of a tent city on 13th and Republic streets in Over-the-Rhine must pack up and move on by tomorrow, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says, or they will be arrested.

The order is the latest in a series of removals and relocations for camp residents. 

The standoff between City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials and camp inhabitants and their advocates started last month when the city sought to remove a camp under Fort Washington Way downtown following complaints from downtown residents and businesses about illegal activity and unsanitary conditions there.

Mayor John Cranley and acting Cincinnati City Manager Patrick Duhaney agreed, saying the camps present public health and safety risks. Advocates for camp residents have contested those assertions, however.

After the city removed the tent city under Fort Washington Way, camp residents joined a camp on Third Street nearby.

Under an order by Hamilton County Judge Robert Ruehlman, that camp and another near the Lytle Tunnel were also removed, pushing camp inhabitants up to Pendleton across from the Jack Casino, then to Gilbert Ave. east of I-71, then to OTR as Ruehlman expanded his prohibition on camps county-wide.

U.S. Southern Ohio Circuit Court Judge Timothy Black, who will consider a lawsuit filed by camp inhabitant Joe Phillips against the city and county Aug. 20, said that Ruehlman's prohibition amounted to outlawing homelessness in the county, but that it wasn't necessarily illegal if space in shelters existed.

That's been a point of contention. Nearly every shelter in the area is full or over capacity, but many have indicated they will make room for camp inhabitants.

Some camp inhabitants are banned from some shelters due to infringement of their rules. Others don’t want to stay there for any number of reasons — from mental health issues like anxiety, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. And advocates at the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and other organizations point out the shelters are already over capacity.

Strategies to End Homelessness, the nonprofit that coordinates many shelter options, says there were roughly 7,100 people experiencing homelessness at some point in the year in Hamilton County in 2016, including more than 1,000 during a count done on one day that year. To address that need, there are 675 permanent shelter beds, with more emergency shelter space available during the winter months. The men’s shelter on Gest Street in Queensgate is 130 percent full and a women’s shelter in Mount Auburn has 78 people staying in its 60-bed facility.

Inhabitants seemed to have found respite in OTR — the camp there is on land privately owned by Over-the-Rhine Community Housing. But Cincinnati Police have said they have received public nuisance complaints about outdoor urination and drug use, and thus have the right to remove people from the property.

Many of the inhabitants of the camps have found housing or shelter space. Advocates for the handful left say that the city has engaged in "productive talks" with attorney Bennett Allen around policy changes that could settle Phillips' lawsuit. But the latest announcement from Deters speeds up the timeline to resolve the issue.

"Prosecutor Joe Deters has decided to not only chase people with nowhere else to go from public lands, but now is seeking to control what people do with their own private land," the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, which has been advocating for the camp residents, said in a statement today. The coalition will have a news conference today (Aug. 15) at 3:30 p.m. to discuss Deters' order.

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