Bloomington city council votes down proposed law on protections for houseless on 4–4 tie at 3:21 a.m.

In reverse chronological order, votes taken by Bloomington’s city council related to Ord 21-06, which would have provided certain protections to those experiencing homelessness.  The one motion that passed was to read the ordinance by title and synopsis only. The meeting started on March 3, and ended on March 4.

On Thursday morning, a proposed local law that would have provided certain protections to people experiencing homelessness failed to get the five votes it needed on the nine-member Bloomington city council.

The vote was a 4–4 tie. City council president Jim Sims was not able to attend the meeting. Chairing the meeting in his absence was vice president Sue Sgambelluri.

The meeting started on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. The vote was taken nearly nine hours later, at 3:21 a.m.

The split on the council was along fault lines that have become familiar.

Voting for the ordinance were: Matt Flaherty, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Kate Rosenbarger, and Steve Volan.

Voting against it were: Dave Rollo, Ron Smith, Sue Sgambelluri, and Susan Sandberg.

Ordinance sponsors were Flaherty, Rosenbarger, and Piedmont-Smith. Continue reading “Bloomington city council votes down proposed law on protections for houseless on 4–4 tie at 3:21 a.m.”

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 ordinance giving protections to houseless encampments gets a look from Bloomington human rights group

A proposed ordinance on encampments of houseless people in city parks got some scrutiny from Bloomington’s human rights commission at the group’s regular meeting on Monday.

The commissioners voted 3–0 with two abstentions to endorse the proposed ordinance, with some caveats.

The proposed law is set for deliberations on Wednesday by the city council’s committee of the whole. No vote on enactment will be taken at the committee meeting.

The law was proposed by city council sponsors Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith, after a decision by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

Highlights of the proposed new law include a requirement of 15-day notice before a camp displacement.

Also under the proposed ordinance, the city could not displace a camp unless there is sufficient available “permanent housing” or “transitional housing” as defined by federal HUD regulations. Emergency shelters would not count towards available housing.

On Monday, commissioners dug a bit into the proposed new law. Continue reading “Proposed ordinance giving protections to houseless encampments gets a look from Bloomington human rights group”

Proposed Bloomington law to protect houseless encampments to get first reading on Feb. 17

A new local law that would provide certain protections to people living in city park encampments will get a first reading in front of Bloomington’s city council on Wednesday (Feb. 17).

That’s two weeks later than the Feb. 3 first-reading date that had initially been floated by sponsors of the ordinance—councilmembers Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

The proposed new law comes after a decision by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

On Sunday morning (Feb. 14), no tents were set up Seminary Park and no one was congregated there.

Highlights of the proposed new law include a requirement of 15-day notice by the city to a houseless person living in a city park encampment, before they and their belongings can be removed from the park.

The new law is being proposed in the context of a “Houseless Bill of Rights” that had been circulated by activist Vauhxx Booker just after the first clearance of Seminary Park in early December. One point of overlap between the proposed new ordinance and the “Houseless Bill of Rights” is the requirement of a 15-day notice before people are removed. Continue reading “Proposed Bloomington law to protect houseless encampments to get first reading on Feb. 17”

Bloomington city council to consider new law protecting homeless encampments in parks

Seminary Park from the Walnut Street side, looking northwest on Jan. 23, 2021. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

A new local law that would provide certain protections to people living in city park encampments could get a first reading in front of Bloomington’s city council on Feb. 3.

The proposed new law comes after a decision by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

On Saturday, Jan. 23, four tents were set up on the Walnut Street side of the park, and a half dozen people were congregated there.

Highlights of the proposed new law include a requirement of 15-day notice by the city to a homeless person living in a city park encampment, before they and their belongings can be removed from the park.

Another requirement of the proposed law is that the city catalog and store for at least 60 days the belongings of a person who is removed from a park encampment. The amount of belongings the city must store is described in the draft as fitting “entirely within one 96-gallon container per displaced person.”

Under the proposed new law in its draft form, the city wouldn’t be able to close down a park encampment unless there is “sufficient available housing”—except in the case of an emergency.

After giving the required 15-day notice, the city would, under the proposed new law, have to work with service providers, faith-based organizations, street ministries, or volunteers ensure that those in the encampment are offered alternative housing and wraparound services.

The possibility of a Feb. 3 first reading, which could mean enactment at the city council’s Feb. 17 meeting, was floated at the city council’s noon work season on Friday, Jan. 22.

Continue reading “Bloomington city council to consider new law protecting homeless encampments in parks”

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”

Enforcement by city, county against encampments in different locations Thursday night: 1 tent remains at Seminary Park

Seminary Park

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During a Thursday night meeting of Bloomington city council’s four-member public safety committee, to hear public comment about the houseless encampment in Seminary Park, Monroe County sheriff’s deputies were patrolling county land further south off Rogers Street.

At Seminary Park, after the committee meeting ended around 9 p.m., word had already spread about two arrests made on the county’s property, which includes 87 acres that front Rogers Street north of Cherokee Drive.

A couple hours later, Seminary Park would see its own, second enforcement action of the day.

[Updated at 12:22 p.m. on Jan. 15. The city of Bloomington issued a statement on the topic. “The City will continue actively collaborating with the entire community and region, including other governmental entities (Monroe County government and township trustees) service providers, those with lived experience, faith communities, and philanthropic agencies, to identify short- and long-term alternatives for our residents experiencing homelessness.”]

The statement includes information about where the people’s belongings had been taken: “Switchyard Park maintenance building at 1601 South Rogers Street where they may be retrieved today from 8:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. and Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. starting next week.” The statement also says, “Anyone seeking information about available services including emergency shelter may call 211.”

Monroe County land

This aerial image of the county-owned property off Rogers is from the Monroe County online GIS system.

Continue reading “Enforcement by city, county against encampments in different locations Thursday night: 1 tent remains at Seminary Park”

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”

Seminary Park encampment not yet cleared, chance comes up for 50 more shelter beds

Reduced in number but remaining in place on Monday night, was Bloomington’s Seminary Park encampment of people who are experiencing homelessness.

The enforcement action, which Bloomington’s city administration had warned would come “on or about Jan. 11” looks like it might be taken about Jan. 11, not exactly on the date.

As of around 1 a.m. no action had been taken by the Bloomington police department (BPD) to remove anyone from the park.

The apparent lack of enforcement action at Seminary Park came after the late afternoon news of possibly 50 additional shelter beds that might become available.

Beacon, Inc. executive director Forrest Gilmore said on Facebook that he’d walked the city’s fire chief, Jason Moore, through a warehouse space that Gilmore described as looking like a viable low barrier winter shelter. Continue reading “Seminary Park encampment not yet cleared, chance comes up for 50 more shelter beds”

Seminary Park encampment clearance still on course for “on or about” Jan. 11

Jan. 11 is still the date when Bloomington is planning to clear an encampment from the area around Seminary Park at 2nd Street and College Avenue, city officials say.

Estimates of the number of people who are staying there, reporting that they have no other place to go, vary from a dozen and a half up to more than 50, with additional numbers socializing there during the day.

Since the Dec. 9 clearance of the park by the city, the strip of public right-of-way along the road, and probably a little more, has been re-established as a place where people are sleeping, socializing and storing their warming accoutrements.

Early the week of Jan. 4, city staff planted signs on stakes in the area, giving notice of the clearance date. It is described on the signs as “on or about” Jan. 11. Some of the signs were immediately pushed over by park campers.

The signs include the text: “It is our hope that everyone currently in the Seminary Park area will find safe shelter/housing alternatives by January 11 by taking advantage of the opportunities available through the agencies that serve those experiencing homelessness.”

The suggested contact points listed out on the signs include: Beacon/Shalom Center, Friend’s Place, Wheeler Mission, New Hope Family Shelter, Amethyst House, Perry Township trustee’s office, and Middle Way House.

It was before Christmas when the city settled on the Jan. 11 date.

The more recent signage can be analyzed as a response to the criticism that the city gave no clear indication that enforcement action was imminent before its Dec. 9 park clearance. It came just after the board of park commissioners had declined the administration’s request to extend a nighttime prohibition of camping to daytime hours. Continue reading “Seminary Park encampment clearance still on course for “on or about” Jan. 11”