Homeless advocates arrested in protests at home of Columbus officials
The residences of three Columbus city officials became the scene of protests on Sunday evening as homeless advocates staged protests in an attempt to pressure leaders to stop impending eviction of those residing in a homeless camp on the Near East Side.
According to the Columbus Police Division, four people have been arrested and a fifth has received a subpoena – all cited for trespassing on private property during the protests at the home of City Council Speaker Shannon Hardin, Councilwoman Shayla Favor and City Attorney Zach Klein.
First Collectivethe non-profit group of social justice activists who run what became Camp Shameless on Mound Street, live-streamed the protests and arrests of protesters on social media.
As the protests unfolded, First Collective also shared on Twitter a list of five demands he has for city officials, in particular, that the planned eviction of people living in the camp be canceled.
The city issued a trespassing notice in late July to people residing on the land, which is part-owned by the city, ordering them to vacate the camp by Thursday. However, this advisory has since been extended until September 14.
In support of its claim, First Collective argued that while the lot is partly on city-owned land, it is also on private property whose owner has permitted the camp to be present. First Collective activists say they submitted a proposal to the city to convert the land into a small settlement of houses, but the plan was rejected by the city.
Ahead of Sunday’s protests, First Collective had begun raising money for its legal fund via social media, suggesting its leaders were anticipating arrests.
“We knew it was a risk; it’s always a risk when you’re protesting,” said Elizabeth Blackburn, a First Collective volunteer who lives at the homeless camp. “As a group, I felt it was important to take the fight to the people who were making the decisions and to the people most responsible for the situation.”
A total of eight people protested outside the three homes, five of whom were eventually arrested, Blackburn said. One of those arrested uses a wheelchair and, for this reason, could not be reserved for the prison. So she received a court summons, Blackburn said.
Three arrests took place outside Klein’s home, according to Blackburn.
The other two activists were arrested Sunday evening outside Hardin’s residence after Hardin called police dispatchers around 5 p.m. to inform them that protesters had set up tents, sleeping bags and signs on his lawn, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in Franklin County. City Court. Court records indicate that Hardin spoke to protesters, who refused to leave when asked.
Among those arrested was Clintonville resident Joe Motil, a local activist who said he was preparing for a mayoral race. When contacted by The Dispatch on Monday morning shortly after his release from prison, Motil confirmed the account contained in court records of his arrest.
“We had everything ready; we had tents that were going up very quickly,” Motil said. “We had sleeping bags, mattresses to sleep on, we had a water cooler, we had signs to put up.”
After refusing a police request to move into the public right-of-way, he and another protester were cited for misdemeanor trespassing and put in a police van bound for Jackson Pike Jail, where Motil said they had fingerprints, photo IDs taken, and spent the night in a holding area with about 50 men. Motil said the protesters were released Monday morning on their own recognizance without bail and given a court date on Thursday.
Since Klein’s home was among the locations where arrests took place, a spokeswoman for her office confirmed that a special prosecutor would handle the cases to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Expressing disappointment with the method chosen by protesters to air their objections, city leaders reached by The Dispatch on Monday insisted they had maintained an ongoing dialogue with activists and others about strategies for fight against homelessness.
“We recognize that homelessness is an issue in our city, and as community leaders, we must continue to work hard to ensure people can receive the help and services they need,” a statement said. from Klein’s office provided to The Expedition.
Mike Brown, Hardin’s chief of staff, said in an email to The Dispatch that the Columbus City Council has remained informed of the situation at the Mound Street camp, which they understand to be unsafe and unsanitary.
“Council Chairman Hardin offered to meet with people this week to discuss their concerns, but several chose to remain camped in his yard and were arrested,” Brown said. “Our goal, as always with the Community Shelter Board and other partners, is to help as many people as possible choose to get the housing or treatment they need.”
A spokesperson for Favor forwarded the comments to Hardin’s office, as well as the city’s development department.
Also among First Collective’s demands is a request that matters in Columbus involving the homeless population be moved from the jurisdiction of the Columbus City Development and Public Health Department due to the fact that many people chronically homeless people also suffer from mental illness and addiction. .
Other First Collective demands include that the city end the environmental remediation contract associated with the camp sweeps; that the city create a committee to review and revise homelessness policies; and that the city provide space and funding for overnight warming centers during the winter months.
Michael Stevens, the city’s director of development, said his department worked with First Collective on possible solutions, but these new demands were never communicated to his office. He declined to comment on their feasibility until his office had more time to review the applications.
“I find it very unfortunate that they have resorted to political theater over private property from elected leaders who are struggling to identify solutions,” Stevens said.
Prior to opening of the camp at the end of MarchFirst Collective had operated such a warming center at the Old First Presbyterian Church on Bryden Road.
In the months after the camp opened, 15 to 20 people lived on the site, including some First Collective organizers.
As donations from the community poured in, the camp grew, amassing a stockpile of food, medicine and other supplies. Volunteers and the camp’s homeless shelters built fences, hung signs and installed solar panels to provide a stable power source, while social workers regularly visited the site to connect residents to housing services and addiction treatment.
However, when city leaders learned that camp volunteers had begun building a permanent structure cemented into the ground, they took action. City officials also said they have become aware of illicit activities and public health issues they believe are prevalent in the camp, including drug use and littering.
On July 22, the city issued a stop work order for the structure, which camp volunteers removed from the ground and glued to wooden pallets. This order was followed on July 28 by a camp trespassing notice informing them that they should leave by September 1.
Now that the advisory has been extended through Sept. 14, city officials are hoping this will provide more time to help residents who remain at camp be connected to the services they need, whether housing assistance or drug treatment facilities.
According to the Ministry of Development, eight of the 12 or 13 people staying there have completed the administrative formalities to move into housing. The other four people staying in the camp were offered assistance, which they refused.
“We will continue to offer them help and resources, but we cannot tolerate actions that break the law,” Stevens said. “We need to fix this and do this remediation, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to serve these people and make sure we meet their needs.”
In the meantime, First Collective is hosting a resource fair from 8 a.m. to noon Thursday at the Mound Street camp.
“We hope we can continue to work with people in the vicinity and find a solution for residents,” Blackburn said.
Expedition reporters Bethany Bruner and Bill Bush contributed to this article.