Homeless arrests in Cleveland halted by federal judge - ACLU sued

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 25 Dec 1999 16:06:00 -0800 (PST)

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FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Dec 23, 1999 22:23
     Photo Advisory  CD101-2


     By M.R. KROPKO
     Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) _ A federal judge issued a temporary restraining
order late Thursday to prevent police from arresting homeless
people sleeping in some areas of the city.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Paul R. Matia allowed police
to continue removing the homeless from an area in the heart of
downtown that includes Public Square, where five people protesting
the city's actions were arrested early Thursday.

The restraining order came in response to a lawsuit filed by the
American Civil Liberties Union late Thursday.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four homeless men, alleges the
city has violated the First, Fourth, Eighth, and 14th amendments to
the Constitution. An estimated 3,000 Cleveland residents are

City and ACLU officials met Thursday, but were unable to come to
an agreement that would have prevented filing of the suit.

``The restraining order allows the homeless to take what heat
they can from steam grates located outside downtown,'' said Ray
Vasvari, the ACLU's Ohio legal director.

Vasvari said the city had been illegally forcing the homeless
off the streets.

``The city is using a sidewalk obstruction ordinance which does
not apply to individuals, and a disorderly conduct ordinance. But
it's hard to engage in disorderly conduct if you're sleeping,''
Vasvari said.

The restraining order lasts for 20 days.

City officials were unavailable for comment Thursday evening.
Earlier in the day, Law Director Cornell Carter said the city and
police did nothing wrong.

``Our discussion with the ACLU is ongoing, but it is clear that
the city's enforcement effort is not only legal, it is
humanitarian,'' he said.

Police made arrests on Public Square early Thursday only of
people who would not leave, said city Safety Director Henry Guzman.

In addition to the five arrested, six other people were
dispersed after setting up a makeshift tent village in Public
Square, which is considered a city park.

Guzman said people who were staying under tarpaulins at the
square did not have a permit to be there and their heaters were a
safety risk.

``We really wanted to bring attention to the fact that a lot of
homeless people are getting kicked off grates and being forced into
alleys where they are more likely to freeze to death,'' said Elena
Tootell, 25, of Cleveland Heights, an advocate for the homeless,
who was among the five people arrested for demonstrating without a

A hearing for them will take place Monday.

Mayor Michael R. White said about three weeks ago that police
would step up enforcement aimed at panhandlers and street crime.
Critics of the move have said it is aimed at the homeless.

Brian Davis, director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the
Homeless, said Thursday he believes the city is trying to keep the
homeless away from Public Square and other downtown areas.

He said police turned out at 3 a.m. Thursday to stop ``a very
small demonstration on Public Square that could possibly jeopardize
sales downtown, because pedestrians don't want to see a tent with
homeless people two days before Christmas.''

AP-CS-12-23-99 2323EST
Received  Id AP99357A7419671 on Dec 23 1999 22:23


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