Indiana Daily Student

‘Nothing but a ruse to get what they wanted’: Bloomington residents react to Seminary Square Park homeless camp clear out

<p>Tents and other shelters are erected in December at Seminary Square Park at 100 W. Second St. Two people experiencing homelessness have died in Bloomington this winter, 49-year-old Iva Chatten and a 51-year-old man named JT. </p>

Tents and other shelters are erected in December at Seminary Square Park at 100 W. Second St. Two people experiencing homelessness have died in Bloomington this winter, 49-year-old Iva Chatten and a 51-year-old man named JT.

Bloomington police officers and non-sworn personnel, enforcing a policy about overnight park use, cleared out the homeless camp at Seminary Square Park on Wednesday night, according to a statement from the city.

The Board of Park Commissioners voted Tuesday against a policy change that would have prohibited camps on any city structure or property any time of the day without a permit. But encampments from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. still require a permit, a rule that has been in place since April 2013, according the city’s statement.

Bloomington Police Department downtown resource officers, neighborhood resource specialists and the social worker went to Seminary Square to remind people of the no-sleeping rule and help them find access to resources, according to the statement. The Bloomingtonian reported officers and social workers arrived around 10 p.m.

A bus was available to transport people to Wheeler Mission, which one person took, according to the city’s statement. Three people went to the Stride Center, a crisis diversion center. The statement did not specify how many people were present at the time police and social workers arrived.

Harry Collins, who is homeless and the founder of the Bloomington Homeless Coalition, said many thought the park commissioners’ vote on Tuesday was a win for the homeless community, but they weren’t aware of the overnight rule. He was frustrated about what happened Wednesday night.

“It really looked like this was nothing but a ruse to get what they wanted, just in a different way,” he said. “I’m not going to sit back and let this city run over my brothers and sisters because they are homeless. It doesn’t take a genius to know that this town, this county does not like the homeless. If they don’t want to see us homeless out there on the streets, day or night, then give us a place to be off the streets.”

Collins acknowledged services such as Shalom Community Center day shelter and A Friend’s Place night shelter, but he said not all homeless people feel comfortable in a shelter setting, especially during the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against breaking up homeless camps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the greater community.

“If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are,” reads one of the suggestions. “Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

Parks staff believe numerous homeless people use the parks as social spaces rather than residences or emergency shelters, the city’s statement reads. BPD found “hundreds” of needles and syringes not disposed of safely Wednesday night, according to the statement, and “there may have been people sleeping in tents in the public right-of-way adjacent to the park,” which is not allowed for safety reasons.

Bloomington resident Steve Taft said he went to check out Seminary Square at about 12:15 a.m. Thursday and said all the tents had been removed. He said he saw police picking up remaining items and putting them into a truck.

“It was so derogatory,” Taft said.

If people left belongings behind, BPD collected them and gave them to Parks Operations staff. Those at the parkwere instructed Wednesday night on how to retrieve their items Thursday, according to the city’s statement.

Collins, the founder of the Bloomington Homeless Coalition, said dozens of people have showed support for the homeless community, some by driving to pick up people’s belongings from Parks Operations. One person started a Facebook fundraiser for those displaced from Seminary Square.

Bloomington resident Marshall Bailey, who also visited the site, called clearing out the camp an abuse of public trust. He said most people aren’t familiar with city code and has found it difficult to find local rules online.

Bailey said he went to the park sometime between 1 and 2:30 a.m. Thursday and drove laps around it for about 30 minutes.

“It looked like a bomb of people’s belongings went off,” he said.

Bailey said he saw people, who he assumed were experiencing homelessness and had tried to sleep at the park Wednesday night, picking through leftover items such as clothes. He said the people looked upset, and it seemed like they were looking for their belongings.

He said he also saw about 10 people asleep on different parts of the sidewalk.

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