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The Indiana Daily Student

city bloomington

Around 12 individuals evacuated from unhoused encampment behind Wheeler Mission Thursday


Around a dozen individuals were evacuated by volunteer groups from an unhoused encampment behind Wheeler Mission Thursday.  

Trin Piedra, a representative for the advocacy group Indiana Recovery Alliance, said in a text message she and representatives from other groups — including the city’s Brighten B-Town initiative and HealthNet Bloomington Health Center — worked for more than eight hours to evacuate the individuals living in the encampment and their belongings to undisclosed locations across Bloomington.  

Piedra also said the city brought in machinery and gravel to fill in wet ground on the encampment site and tear down any structures left after individuals were evacuated.  

“When I left my boots were caked with mud, and both my feet were soaked from the top,” Piedra said.  

Bloomington Mayor Kerry Thomson and Bloomington Police Department Chief Michael Diekhoff were present at the encampment Thursday morning. 

“Unfortunately, we did not receive recommendations about long-term rehousing, but discussions are still ongoing,” Piedra said.  

This is the second encampment the city has cleared since Thomson was sworn into office Jan. 1. The city cleared an unhoused encampment near the intersection of Fairview Street and Patterson Drive on Jan. 4, which displaced up to a dozen people.  

RelatedCity to clear and move unhoused encampment behind Wheeler Mission Thursday The city cleared another encampment Jan. 4.

The city also began enforcing a policy prohibiting tents and other enclosed structures in Bloomington public parks during daytime hours beginning in August 2023.  

Angela Van Rooy, interim communication director for the city, said in an email the decision to clear the encampment is connected to two murders that occurred at the site in the two months. 

On Dec. 8, police arrested a man in connection to the death of Shaquille Phillips, who was found deceased in a creek bed near Wheeler Mission on Dec. 7 with injuries from a machete attack. Last week, Bloomington police arrested a woman in connection with the death of 52-year-old Curis Butler, who was shot in a tent in the encampment Jan. 9.       

“The encampment behind Wheeler Mission has posed significant safety concerns for some time,” Van Rooy said. “Ensuring that everyone in our community is safe is our top priority, thus a decision was made to clear the encampment.”  

Van Rooy said city staff and local service providers have been working together to develop a long-term strategy to help those displaced transition into permanent housing, although she did not bring up any specific actions.  

During Wednesday night’s city council meeting, Thomson told the council she is collaborating with leaders from various faith communities to potentially provide shelter and volunteer resources. However, she emphasized that volunteers through faith communities may not have the training or skills in de-escalation and security to provide the necessary long-term solutions.  

“Our shelter providers don’t have adequate supply right now and the multifaith team, they were very clear that their volunteers don’t have the skills yet to do that either,” Thomson said during last night’s meeting. “So, we need to approach this with care; there’s not an easy solution.”  

The city posted a notice of criminal trespass outside the camp Jan. 19. The trespass notice stated that individuals needed to remove themselves and all their possessions from the property within 72 hours — an original deadline of 5 p.m. Monday. However, Van Rooy said recent extreme weather conditions delayed the clearance until Thursday.  

RelatedWoman arrested Friday in Bloomington unhoused camp murder The 41-year-old woman faces a felony murder charge.

According to the criminal trespass notice, individuals would be subject to arrest if they did not comply with orders to evacuate the encampment.  

BPD Capt. Ryan Pedigo said in an email there were no arrests made at the encampment Thursday.  

The notice also stated the city may seize, temporarily store or discard any property left at the encampment site, though it does not say where they are keeping these belongings or how people can retrieve them. Property that is soiled, perishable, represents a health or safety hazard or deemed illegal or possibly illegal may be disposed of by the city.

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