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”

Monroe Dems: “Removing people without homes and their belongings from the encampment in the park is not an acceptable answer.”

Responding to a city of Bloomington action on Wednesday night, to remove people and their belongings from Seminary Park, the Monroe County Democratic Party issued a statement on Sunday critical of the move.

The MCDP statement asks that portable restrooms and handwashing stations be placed at the park as “the bare minimum.”

The statement also calls on  elected representatives in city and county government to “work together in conjunction with local social service organizations, activists, and those that are experiencing homelessness to build a coalition and work together on a long-term solution.”

The MCDP statement advocates “allocating funds for long-term housing for those unhoused…”

That echoes a sentiment that has begun to get more frequent mention in local discussions, which is summarized in the slogan, “housing first.” That contrasts with the idea of putting “shelter first.”

The statement also asks that people make contributions to local organizations like: Beacon, Inc., Middle Way House, The Bloomington Volunteer Network, and Community Kitchen of Monroe County.

At a rally on Friday night at the county courthouse, some speakers also asked that people support a grassroots effort,.Hotels for Homeless, as an organization that had made arrangements for some who were staying in Seminary Park.

The city worked with some of the local nonprofits on Wednesday night to point park resident to other resources. Three of the park residents agreed to go to the Stride Center and a fourth to Wheeler Mission’s shelter, according to city officials. Continue reading “Monroe Dems: “Removing people without homes and their belongings from the encampment in the park is not an acceptable answer.””

Celebration of Biden/Harris victory at courthouse: “All of our elected officials, whether you are Democrat or Republican, you will be held accountable.”

At noon on Sunday, around 250 people gathered on the Monroe County courthouse lawn in downtown Bloomington, Indiana, to celebrate the results of last Tuesday’s presidential election.

The Associated Press reported on Saturday, about 24 hours earlier, that Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had clinched victory over the Republican Trump/Pence ticket.

A handful of leaders from activist groups addressed the crowd over a PA system.

Some of the remarks could be counted as basking in the glow of a partisan victory. Many were a bit more pointed, challenging those assembled to tackle the work that lies ahead.

Lindsey Batteast, with the Rising Rainbow Coalition, warned:  “All of our elected officials, whether you are Democrat or Republican, you will be held accountable.” Continue reading “Celebration of Biden/Harris victory at courthouse: “All of our elected officials, whether you are Democrat or Republican, you will be held accountable.””

Opinion | Recovering four words: true and equal partnership

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This Square Beacon file photo is from a joint meeting of city and county officials on the convention center expansion that took place in 2019.

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, gave a speech last week on Thursday, released in a Facebook video, that revealed the basic approach the city will take to spur a local recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19. It’s a program the mayor is calling “Recovering Forward.”

The speech prompted a response from county elected officials in the form of a pointed press release issued late this Friday afternoon.

By way of background, the mayor had sketched out the initial part of his recovery plan at a Bloomington city council work session the Friday before. To jump start the effort, the initial part of the plan includes a request to the Bloomington city council for a $2-million appropriation.

Overshadowing the rest of the speech was the mayor’s renewed pitch for an increase to the local income tax, something he’d announced as a goal on New Year’s Day. The amount of the proposed increase last week was reduced—from a half point to a quarter point—compared to the proposal he’d made earlier.

The way the local income tax works is already a point of friction between Bloomington and Monroe County government.

But escaping mention in the local press was this passage from the mayor’s speech:

I’ll note that the City’s recovery investment can and I believe should be in parallel with a similar county government investment in recovery, with their also-healthy financial reserves. I’ve urged our colleagues in county government to expand their support for eviction protection, for our public health system, for the criminal justice system reforms so sorely needed, and for other recovery needs.

That paragraph from the address, among others, piqued the interest of the mayor’s “colleagues in county government”—who wondered why the mayor felt it was his place to urge them to do anything at all.

They wondered even more why the mayor was urging them to do things they believe they’re already doing. Continue reading “Opinion | Recovering four words: true and equal partnership”

Two people, one seat for Bloomington’s plan commission vacancy: Will a judge decide who sits there?

The city of Bloomington confirmed to The Square Beacon on Thursday afternoon that the mayor, John Hamilton, has appointed commercial real estate broker Chris Cockerham to fill the vacancy on the city’s plan commission. The plan commission is a nine-member group, five of which seats are appointed by the mayor.

The vacancy was created in January, when Nick Kappas was not reappointed.

In a statement sent to The Square Beacon city attorney Mike Rouker said, “[T]he Mayor was pleased to select Chris for service on the commission. We are very excited about this appointment, and we are looking forward to Chris and the rest of the plan commission getting back to the important work they do for our community.”

Reached by The Square Beacon on Thursday, Cockerham said, “I’m ready to serve and happy to serve. Hopefully, it works out.”

Why wouldn’t it work out?

In mid-April, Monroe County Republican chair William Ellis issued a press release saying that he, as GOP chair—not the mayor—had the authority to fill the plan commission vacancy. Ellis’s pick for the spot was Andrew Guenther. Continue reading “Two people, one seat for Bloomington’s plan commission vacancy: Will a judge decide who sits there?”

By one-vote margin: Peter Iversen chosen to fill Monroe County’s council vacancy left by Shelli Yoder

On Thursday night, a caucus of the Monroe County Democratic Party (MCDP) chose Peter Iversen over Richard Martin to fill the vacancy left when Shelli Yoder resigned her District 1 seat on the county council, effective Nov. 1. Yoder served through the end of October.

Iversen prevailed by a 7–6 margin among the 13 precinct chairs from District 1 who attended the caucus. District 1 covers the eastern third of the county. Voting was by secret ballot.

Right after his winning tally was announced, Iversen was sworn into office by Monroe County’s clerk, Nicole Browne. Continue reading “By one-vote margin: Peter Iversen chosen to fill Monroe County’s council vacancy left by Shelli Yoder”

Campaign finance injects interest in Bloomington’s District 2 city council race

In late August, at a Democratic Party caucus, District 2 Bloomington city council candidate Sue Sgambelluri offered the gathering her thoughts on Democrat Marty Spechler’s run for the District 3 seat as an independent: “First, I want to congratulate District 3 on having replaced District 2 as the most interesting race this year. Well done!”

As a matter of politically piquant interest, the Democratic Party’s internal kerfuffle in District 3 has now been eclipsed by the campaign finance reports filed last week by Republican Andrew Guenther, who is Sgambelluri’s opponent in District 2. Guenther’s level and sources of financial support have led to official statements on behalf of both their political parties. Continue reading “Campaign finance injects interest in Bloomington’s District 2 city council race”