Tuesday, June 11, 2002

March supports homeless

By Cindy Schroeder, cschroeder@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — With signs, chants and a list of eight demands, more than 300 people marched on City Hall on Monday, asking Covington officials to stop “harassing” homeless people and address the causes of homelessness and poverty.

        The march — which kicked off a national organization's series of protests against “criminalizing” homelessness — started and ended at Goebel Park, where homeless people sometimes gather.

        They left with a pledge from Covington City Manager Greg Jarvis to meet with Northern Kentucky homeless advocates next week to discuss their concerns.

        “I stand by our record on addressing this issue,” said Mr. Jarvis, adding that Covington administers the federal Section 8 rental subsidy program for Kenton County and has allocated millions of federal dollars to Northern Kentucky agencies serving the homeless.

        Covington “doesn't take a back seat to anyone in Northern Kentucky, certainly within the Greater Cincinnati metropolitan area. ... I would say we're one of the most compassionate cities in the region.”

        Organizers said participants in Monday's protest came from 22 states and the District of Columbia. A prayer service also was held in Jacksonville, Fla., and a candlelight vigil was scheduled in San Diego.

        “We targeted Covington because it's a city that criminalizes the issue of homelessness and, at the same time, is unwilling to provide the services that the homeless people need to survive,” said Donald Whitehead, executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

        Covington is the first of many cities that the National Coalition for the Homeless plans to target through such demonstrations, Mr. Whitehead said.

        What sparked Monday's protest was a series of city-authorized sweeps in mid-April that resulted in the razing of homeless camps on west Covington's Ohio Riverbank.

        Covington Mayor Butch Callery has said the sweep of the city-owned property was done because of liability concerns, as well as health and safety worries.

        As proof of the latter, Friday the mayor cited reports from a Northern Kentucky health department inspector.

        Those chased from the riverbank disagreed. Eight homeless people filed suit in federal court against Covington officials May 20, claiming city officials violated their constitutional rights when they razed the camps without notice, destroying everything from family photos to litters of kittens.

        “They act like we're a bunch of criminals,” said a bearded homeless man who identified himself as Bob.

        He said he lived on the riverbank for six years and was not found out until the disappearance of a businessman from Alabama focused attention on the encampments.

        The camps were razed just days after media accounts following the family and friends search for Lon Dowdle, who drowned in the Ohio River.

        Among the group's demands was the creation of 50 new emergency shelter beds for homeless people, with emphasis on beds for men.

        Although the 2000 Census estimated Covington's homeless population at 3,000, Tristate homeless advocates say there are only 14 emergency shelter beds for Northern Kentucky men, 35 beds for single women and 35 beds for women and children fleeing domestic violence. The protesters did now say how the beds should be funded.

        Last month, the Covington City Commission voted 3-2 against a zone change that would have cleared the way for the proposed Life Learning Center, a one-stop center that supporters said was aimed at helping homeless people and others become self sufficient. In casting the deciding vote, Mr. Callery said that he endorsed the concept, but was opposed to the location.

        As the protesters marched past Dick's Standard Service in Covington on Monday, mechanic Tom Ranshaw, 36, said he found it hard to muster concern for homeless people.

        “I think everybody should have rights,” Mr. Ranshaw said. “That's part of being an American. But they're not telling the whole story.”

        For years, Mr. Ranshaw said that homeless people have broken windows of cars parked at Dick's, slept in customers' vehicles, drank in them and even defecated in them.

        “I'm sorry that people are down on their luck, but I think a lot of (homeless people) would just as soon freeload off people as get help,” Mr. Ranshaw said.


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