Leave homeless alone, federal judge tells Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 25 Dec 1999 16:06:30 -0800 (PST)

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FWD [Ohio, USA] Cleveland Plain Dealer - Friday, December 24, 1999



     A federal judge last night restricted Mayor Michael R. White's new
policy of removing homeless people from downtown Cleveland sidewalks.

     In a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union, Chief Judge Paul
Matia issued a 20-day restraining order against the city, saying police
must cease telling homeless people sleeping on warm sidewalk steam grates
that they have to move. The only restricted areas for the homeless are in
front of the East Ohio Gas Co. on E. 9th St., in front of the Radisson
Hotel and in front of Eaton Corp. on Superior Ave., according to the
restraining order.

     Last month, White ordered stepped-up police patrols downtown and in
the Flats during the holiday season. The policy - aimed at increasing
safety for Christmas shoppers and New Year's revelers - focused on
shoplifters, muggers and other criminals, but also panhandlers and homeless
people sleeping on sidewalks.

     Police were ordered to tell homeless people to move, and if they
refused, they would be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

     The ACLU and advocates for the homeless regarded the action as a civil
rights attack on street people. Yesterday, the ACLU went to court seeking
the restraining order. The ACLU also filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging
the constitutionality of the ordinances Cleveland uses to justify rousting
homeless people.

     In a flurry of conference calls between city lawyer Anthony Garafoli,
ACLU lawyers Raymond Vasvari and Gino Scarselli and the judge, the two
sides hammered out the language of the order and faxed it to the judge at
his home, where he signed it.

     Garafoli attempted to delay the judge's decision until today, but
Matia said that because of frigid temperatures, it was necessary to act

     Vasvari argued that the city's policy of moving the homeless was
unconstitutional and, on a night like last night when temperatures were
expected to drop to 10 degrees, it could mean the difference between life
and death.

     While Matia did not rule on the constitutionality of the policy, he
did order police not to bother the homeless if they were not disturbing the

     In a half-hour phone call, Vasvari and Garafoli debated the city's
tactics. Garafoli maintained city police merely advised the homeless of
shelters they could move to.

     "We are not harassing them. We want them in shelters. We don't want
them on the streets," he said.

     Vasvari countered that the threat of arrest if they didn't move was

     The judge also expressed concern over the lack of available shelter
space when Garafoli said police merely tried to get the homeless to

     Brian Davis, director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the
Homeless, said, "This is a victory for us."

     Calls seeking comment from White's spokeswoman went unanswered last
night. City Safety Director Henry Guzman said early this morning that he
was unaware of the restraining order and declined to comment.

     White's policy prompted about 25 advocates for the homeless, including
some homeless people, to build a tent village out of tarpaulins Tuesday
afternoon in Public Square, which was filled with the city's annual
Christmas displays and ice rink. Some protesters carried signs saying, "I
am homeless. Arrest me."

     At 3 a.m. yesterday, about 14 protesters remained at the village, and
police ordered them to depart. Public Safety Director Henry Guzman said the
protesters were violating city ordinances that prohibit camping in parks,
demonstrating in parks and staging an event in a park without a permit.

     Five protesters, two of them homeless, refused to leave and were
arrested. Three were released, but two remained in the City Jail last night
on other warrants. All five are scheduled for arraignment Monday on charges
they violated the city ordinances.


See also:
AP homeless photos - constantly updating site

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