Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Campers to take case to the feds


Permit denied; activists to move to federal building

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - For the first time in 14 years, an overnight sleepout to raise awareness of Northern Kentucky's homeless won't be held in Goebel Park.

Instead, homeless people and their advocates will camp in front of the nearby federal building Thursday. Covington officials denied the overnight portion of the group's request, citing a year-old law that bans overnight camping in Covington parks and along city-owned riverbanks.

An organizer of the Sleep- Out for the Homeless said that denial sets a double standard, as Covington officials allowed Lewis and Clark re-enactors to camp in a riverfront park for three nights last week.

"I have no idea why the city decided the Lewis and Clark re-enactment was appropriate and our event was not,'' said Rachael Winters, coordinator of the homeless services project for Welcome House, a Covington-based shelter and social service agency that co-sponsors the annual sleepout.

"The re-enactors were camping in (the city-owned) George Rogers Clark Park (near) the riverfront, which included tents, fire, cooking, and camping overnight,'' Winters said. "Why were they given an overnight permit when we were denied one?

"I just think it's inconsistent that they give one group a permit and not ours,'' Winters said.

Mayor Butch Callery said that city officials were not exercising a double standard.

"I think she's making an issue out of nothing,'' Callery said. "As I explained to Jennifer Shofner (chair of the co-sponsoring Northern Kentucky Housing and Homeless Coalition), this was a special request. The Lewis and Clark people are part of a national event re-tracing the steps of that expedition across the country. Since the Corps of Engineers control the riverbank, and you need permits from them for various things, I don't think that should be an issue.''

Callery said the city couldn't put the Lewis and Clark re-enactors on the riverbank because of high water, so they moved to George Rogers Clark Park on Riverside Drive.

City Manager Greg Jarvis said the sleepout event, featuring soup and sandwiches and remarks from homeless people and their advocates, was approved until 11 p.m. for Goebel Park, in keeping with the city's ordinance.

"Tell her to grow up a little bit,'' Callery said.

This is not the first time that homeless advocates and Covington officials have sparred.

In April 2002, a series of city-authorized sweeps resulted in the razing of homeless camps on west Covington's Ohio River bank.

Eight homeless people filed suit, claiming their constitutional rights had been violated. Last week, the trial was set for Jan. 6 in U.S. District Court in Covington.

In July 2002, Covington City Commission approved a law that forbids camping in city parks and along city-owned riverbanks.

City officials, citing campfires and piles of bottles in riverfront homeless camps, described the setting as a health and safety risk. Advocates argued it was unfair to penalize homeless people when there weren't enough shelter beds in Northern Kentucky.

If you go

What: 14th annual SleepOut for the Homeless

When: Starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at Goebel Park. Features 7 p.m. memorial service, 7:45 p.m. speak out with Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, and 10 p.m. march to the Federal Building for overnight demonstration

Where: Goebel Park, Fifth and Philadelphia streets, Covington. Moves to the Federal Building at 35 W. Fifth St. at 10 p.m. for campout.

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E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com




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