Bloomington police respond to records request, release footage of Seminary Park welfare check on man found dead hours later on Christmas Eve

In Seminary Park, on the bench at the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets in downtown Bloomington, a memorial plaque for James “JT” Vanderburg is now set to be installed.

It’s the place where Vanderburg died last year on Christmas Eve, three days after his 51st birthday. At the time, he was without another place to stay.

The plaque was paid for by the public defender’s office and other community members. The epitaph will read: “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is the duty of the living to do so for them.”

The Bloomington police department’s press release about Vanderburg’s death stated that officers responded to the park around 11:40 a.m. A passerby had been asked to call 911, according to the release, “because a man was lying on the ground in the park and was believed to be deceased.”

According to the press release, “[S]everal people had tried to get the man services the previous evening and had offered for him to stay with them overnight, but the man refused and slept in the park.”

The press release also stated, “Officers from BPD had checked his welfare once during the evening hours of December 23rd and twice on the morning of December 24th, but the man was sleeping and refused any assistance.”

What did those three welfare checks look like? What kind of assistance was offered?

On Thursday, Feb. 25, the city of Bloomington responded to a records request made last year by The Square Beacon, under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Continue reading “Bloomington police respond to records request, release footage of Seminary Park welfare check on man found dead hours later on Christmas Eve”

Proposed law on protections for Bloomington’s houseless population prompts question: What are a city’s core services?

For about five hours on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council considered a proposed law that would prevent the displacement of houseless people from their encampments in city parks, unless certain conditions are met.

Late Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 24, 2021), a couple of tents were set up on the Walnut Street side of Seminary Park. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

One of the alternatives provided in the proposed law is for the city to designate locations on public property with access to bathrooms and within a mile of distribution points for prepared meals.

If the city designated such locations, with adequate space for those experiencing homelessness, then encampments could be displaced from city parks without meeting the conditions.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration is opposed to the ordinance.

The ordinance is a response to a decision by Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

During the meeting, a key question was drawn out by back-and-forth between councilmembers and city department heads: What are a city’s core services? Continue reading “Proposed law on protections for Bloomington’s houseless population prompts question: What are a city’s core services?”

Houseless advocates march from Seminary Park to People’s Park to protest clearance from public spaces

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The clearance of an encampment at Bloomington’s Seminary Park in early December and again last week prompted on Monday the second protest in as many nights.

Protesters want the Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to allow encampments of houseless people to persist in public parks. They point to Centers for Disease Control guidelines that call for allowing encampments to stay in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, if other individual housing options are not available.

Whether such options are available is a disputed point.

Monday’s action included as many as 80 people at its peak, which retraced the steps of around a dozen people the night before, from Seminary Park to Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s house. He lives in the Elm Heights neighborhood, south of the Indiana University campus, about a three-quarter mile walk from Seminary Park.

On Monday, the group continued from the mayor’s house to People’s Park on Kirkwood Avenue, where a teach-in was held, featuring speakers from Indiana University’s Rainbow Coalition, a relatively new coalition of multicultural groups on campus.

The night wrapped up around 11:30 p.m. as two houseless men pitched a tent at People’s Park, and protesters lined the sidewalk to form a wall against possible police action.

Protesters left soon after that, and as of 8 a.m. on Tuesday, the tent was still there. Another second, larger one had been added. Continue reading “Houseless advocates march from Seminary Park to People’s Park to protest clearance from public spaces”

Houseless advocates knock on mayor’s door as prelude to Monday’s events

A little after 9 p.m. on Sunday night, Travis Dugan, a man experiencing homelessness, knocked on Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s door. Hamilton lives in the Elm Heights neighborhood south of the Indiana University campus.

A meeting between the two, with more advanced planning, might be taking place sometime in the near future.

Dugan had been staying at the Seminary Park encampment, which the mayor had ordered cleared in early December and again last week.

The Sunday encounter at the mayor’s house came on the same day when Beacon, Inc. announced that a new temporary low-barrier shelter with 49 more beds will be opening on Tuesday.

On Sunday night, Dugan made his way on foot from the Seminary Park area to the mayor’s front door. With him were around a dozen others, who are affiliated with Bloomington Homeless Coalition or other grassroots  efforts to support those who were staying at the Seminary Park encampment.

The conversation between the mayor and the dozen people who’d dropped by for an unannounced visit was conducted at a distance of 10 yards—between the sidewalk and Hamilton’s front porch. Continue reading “Houseless advocates knock on mayor’s door as prelude to Monday’s events”

Public right-of-way near Bloomington’s Seminary Park cleared, encampment moves into park for now

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Around 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon, Bloomington police department (BPD) officers told the houseless people living in the encampment near Seminary Park, south of downtown Bloomington, that they could not occupy the public right-of-way.

Helped by a couple dozen grassroots volunteers and nonprofit caseworkers from Wheeler Mission and Centerstone, several campers moved down the hill into the park itself.

The right-of-way is an area that can be enforced around the clock. The park closes at 11 p.m. That means the move several yards down the hill might have bought the campers 8–9 hours of extra time.

Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael responded to a Square Beacon question about the park clearance by saying the city wanted the campers to “finish the transition to safer shelter options.” Continue reading “Public right-of-way near Bloomington’s Seminary Park cleared, encampment moves into park for now”

Bloomington’s Seminary Park action spurs “Hands off Homeless” rally, call for funding of grassroots efforts

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On Friday evening, about 200 people gathered on the southeast corner of the Monroe County courthouse square to respond to the city of Bloomington’s action on Wednesday night, to remove a group of a dozen and half tents and people from Seminary Park.

One demand that was read aloud by Marc Teller, who’s with the Bloomington Homeless Coalition, is to set up a place for the unhoused to camp that is more centrally located with better access to services.

Another demand read aloud by Teller is for the government money that was allocated to Wheeler Mission—to re-open the women’s shelter, which had closed over the summer—to be transferred to Hotels for Homeless. Teller reported that on Wednesday night, 17 Seminary Park campers had been taken in by Hotels for Homeless.

Advocate for the homeless Janna Arthur, who was a write-in candidate for Monroe County council this year, said, “No one was left behind—because of Hotels of Homeless.”

The grassroots organization, founded over the summer, has become eligible for city of Bloomington social services funding (Jack Hopkins) through fiscal sponsorship by New Leaf-New Life.

At Friday’s rally, local activist Vauhxx Booker used his time addressing the crowd to encourage people to donate directly to the group through its PayPal link. Continue reading “Bloomington’s Seminary Park action spurs “Hands off Homeless” rally, call for funding of grassroots efforts”