Homeless advocates gathered in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday to speak out against the county sheriff’s attempts to evict homeless people sleeping at the courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center with the threat of jail time.
The press conference came on the same day that four local homeless filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil’s new policy is cruel and unusual because it punishes people for being homeless.
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 the state of the economy. He’s asking locals to tell county officials, “I want my government to invest in jobs and housing, not in pushing people to the margins.”
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.
At the press conference, Spring was joined by several homeless people who shared their experiences. All the speakers echoed a similar theme: They’re not homeless by choice, and they only sleep on county property because it’s much safer than the alternatives, such as alleys and abandoned buildings.
McGuffey insists no one is trying to demonize homeless people. She says officers try to link homeless people with local human services when possible. Some of that outreach is already underway through trained officers and neighborhood liaisons, and starting next week the county will bring in a trained mental health professional to act as an advocate and outreach coordinator.
But if help can’t be found, McGuffey says officers have to threaten arrest to invoke a “sense of immediacy” or homeless people might never leave the properties and the public health issue would go unaddressed.
So far, the sheriff’s office sees the program as successful. Over the past four weeks, it’s brought down the amount 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 all of the city’s homeless help. 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 homeless and low-income Cincinnatians.
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.
As part of Homelessness Awareness Month, Spring and other
advocates will march in support of homeless causes later this month. The
march will begin at 3 p.m. on Oct. 26 at 1300 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine.