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Cincinnati Homeless Obey Court Order, Leave Downtown Encampment

Ann Thompson

About two dozen homeless people have obeyed a court order and cleared out of their camp on Third Street in Cincinnati. 

Many of them have taken their tents and set them up just outside the area of downtown covered by the temporary restraining order signed Monday by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman and set up on Central Parkway/Reading Road, just across from the Jack casino. 

Bennett Allen, a lawyer representing the homeless people said he and others from the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless held a meeting with nine representatives of the homeless campers in a room at the National Underground Railroad Center. 

"We talked about it, and we made the argument that if we are going invoke the rule of law, we must also obey the rule of law,'' Allen said. "There was a unanimous decision that it would be in the best interests of everyone to obey the order." 

Shortly after that, all of the homeless people moved their tents north to Central Parkway across from the casino. 

The temporary restraining order was the result of Deters filing a civil nuisance action with Hamilton County Monday morning. Ruehlman signed a temporary restraining order to have the camps cleared immediately. 

"This is a serious problem,'' said Deters, who was asked Friday by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley to get involved in the on-going controversy over the tent village of homeless people that has built up on Third Street in recent months.

"You just can't live on public property like that,'' Deters told WVXU. "John Cranley is behind me on this."

Cranley asked the prosecutor to take action last Friday after city employees cleared out the camp and power-washed the area. Once that was done, many of the homeless went back and set up their tents again.

Ruehlman set a hearing on the restraining order for 9 a.m., August 20. Lawyers for the county, the city and the homeless are expected to be there to make their arguments. 

Bennett Allen, a lawyer for the homeless people, said he was shocked that Ruehlman signed the order without holding a hearing involving all parties, although he acknowledged it was within Ruehlman's power to do so. 

"We were under the impression from the judge's staff that there would be a hearing before an order was signed,'' Allen said. 

The prosecutor had affidavits in support of his action from the Cincinnati Health Department and the Cincinnati Police Department.

Deters said anyone violating the order will be subject to arrest and anyone trying to assist homeless people in setting up on Third Street once it is cleared will be charged with obstruction of justice.

"If anyone tries to do that, they will be arrested,'' Deters said.

Ruehlman said in his temporary restraining order that all of the items remaining on the premises after the homeless people leave will be inventoried and stored as long as the order remains in effect. 

Deters' action came after the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition filed a federal lawsuit Friday asking for a temporary restraining order. Judge Timothy Black denied that order. After Black's decision, city crews went in to clear out and clean up the area. Some of the homeless just moved around the corner and set up on Walnut Street between Second and Third Street and waited until the area was cleaned before moving their tents back to Third Street.

The federal lawsuit, which is still in court, alleges the city is violating residents' constitutional rights, saying sidewalks are public forums, and the people living on Third Street are "engaged in symbolic political speech calling attention to the city's affordable housing crisis."

Deters said it is his understanding that there is enough room in area homeless shelters for the people camped on Third Street.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.