[Hpn] Covington, KY - New Covington law called move against homeless - The Cincinnati Enquirer - July 19, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Sat, 20 Jul 2002 13:27:55 -0500

No-camping in parks brings protests
New Covington law called move against homeless
By Cindy Schroeder - The Cincinnati Enquirer - July 19, 2002

COVINGTON, KY — People who camp in Covington parks such as Devou and Goebel, as
well as along city-owned riverbanks, face possible immediate arrest under a new

Approved this week by Covington City Commission, the law will take effect within
a couple of weeks.

It calls for arrest for camping in parks, especially between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.;
lighting fires anywhere other than on city-owned grills; and drinking alcohol
except in certain parts of Devou Park.

Violators of the misdemeanor face a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a
$500 fine.

The law pleases people like Joe Mueller, a long-time resident of Covington's
Main Strasse neighborhood. He says he's tired of homeless people drinking,
defecating and panhandling in Goebel Park.

But the change has homeless advocates threatening legal action.

“Not allowing the homeless to have a fire on the riverbank or to camp on the
riverbank is another way of saying "Get out,”' said Mark Teegarden, a civil
rights advocate for the homeless of Northern Kentucky.

“To me, that ordinance is a hate crime ordinance. It's targeting the homeless
and being done to run them out of the city.”

Mr. Teegarden said the Homeless Advocacy Group of the Recovery Network plans to
file an injunction in federal court to overturn the law and stop Covington's
periodic sweeps of riverfront homeless camps.

But Mr. Mueller, 66, welcomes the new law.

“(Someone) had a beautiful wedding around the bell tower last Saturday, while
the homeless people were sitting in the (Goebel Park) shelter house drinking,”
he said.

“We're tired of homeless people hitting up park visitors and tourists for money,
drinking and urinating in the park, and defecating in the shelter house at
night. The police do the best they can, but they can't be in the park all the

Mr. Teegarden characterized Mr. Mueller's comments as “totally bull.”

He challenged Mr. Mueller to prove that it's homeless people who are responsible
for many of the parks' problems. “The homeless people always get blamed because
they are the ones who are easiest to blame,” he said.

Covington Commissioner Alex Edmondson said that the new law is patterned after
one that was upheld in a Florida federal court.

“We're just using the ordinances that are legal to protect our residents,” Mr.
Edmondson said.

“We're in the unique situation where our riverbanks are unexposed (hidden by
vegetation) and we've been getting complaints from residents that people are
setting fires (on the riverbank) and doing other things that are unacceptable.”

        Covington City Solicitor Jay Fossett said the change was prompted “by
continuing problems of people camping out on the riverfront.”

        In mid-April, a series of city-authorized sweeps resulted in the razing
of homeless camps on west Covington's riverbank. City officials, citing piles of
bottles and campfires, described the setting as a health and safety risk.

        Eight of those campers responded by filing suit still pending in federal
court, claiming city officials violated their constitutional rights when they
razed the camps without notice.

Three weeks later, 300 people marched on City Hall, asking Covington officials
to stop “harassing” homeless people and to address the causes of homelessness
and poverty.

        “Basically, the city is responding to the problem by criminalizing the
situation rather than looking at problem solving and focusing on solutions,”
said Linda Young, executive director of the Welcome House social service agency.

        She and other homeless advocates say it's unfair to penalize homeless
people for camping in public areas when there aren't enough shelter beds in
Northern Kentucky.

“It certainly seems that the law in Kentucky is aimed at the homeless, given all
that's happened in the past few months, "' said John Halpin, an organizer with
the National Homeless Civil Rights Organizing Project.

In Cincinnati, he said there are no anti-camping laws for parks.

Elsewhere in Ohio, park systems in Hamilton and Butler counties allow no
overnight camping except in designated areas.

Mr. Fossett said that he will meet with Covington police to ensure that the new
law is fairly enforced . He said homeless people who violate the law initially
will be warned and will be told that there are places where they can stay.

If they are arrested, Mr. Fossett said that he will ask the court to order them
to an alcohol treatment facility, if necessary, as a condition of probation; and
he also will ask that they be sent to a homeless shelter instead of to jail.

Commissioner Craig Bohman, who cast the sole vote against the tougher law,
described the measure as “overkill” and said the additional crimes and penalties
are unnecessary.

 “If you're reading a newspaper near the Devou Park band shell and the newspaper
falls on top of you and you fall asleep, it's now considered camping,” he said.

source page:
Writer Cindy Schroeder, cschroeder@enquirer.com

H. C. [Sonny] Covington, Editor
Homeless and Housing News