Homeless advocates gathered in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse on Oct. 16 to speak out against the county sheriff’s attempts to evict homeless people sleeping at the courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center and threaten jail time.
The press conference came on the same day that four local homeless people filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil’s new policy is cruel because it punishes people for being homeless.
Major Charmaine McGuffey, head of the Hamilton County Justice Department, says the policy is necessary to address a public health issue. She explains that every morning county officials are forced to clean up urine and feces left by the homeless the night before, and often the county doesn’t have the resources to completely disinfect the areas.
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says county officials should stop using taxpayer money to address public defecation and focus on jobs and the state of the economy.
If the policy remains, Spring says the county could at least compromise and hold enforcement until the winter shelter opens, which would provide another housing opportunity for many of the homeless people who currently rely on county buildings for a safe spot to sleep.
McGuffey says the current timeline for the winter shelter opening — two months — is too much time to wait for what she describes as a public health issue.
She says it’s also unclear whether local organizations, which are still gathering funds for the shelter, will have enough money to open it.
Over the past four weeks, the sheriff’s office has reduced the number of homeless people camping out at the Hamilton County Courthouse and Justice Center each night from 40 to 12, according to McGuffey. She says the reductions exemplify people who were redirected to human services, but there’s no hard evidence showing those people actually got help or whether the reduction is temporary.
Spring says there aren’t enough human services to get help for the city and county’s homeless and low-income populations. That, he claims, is the real problem that needs local officials’ attention.
Over the past decade, City Council fell far short of its funding goal for human services, which aid the poor and homeless.
Several council candidates, including Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman and Mike Moroski, say increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget will be a priority for them over the next few years. The increase would represent an improvement, but it would still fall short of the city’s 1.5 percent goal.
Meanwhile, Strategies to End Homelessness aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 to roughly 3,500 over the next five years through an initiative backed by the city and county.