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.

Reached by The Square Beacon, MCDP chair Jennifer Crossley said the county party did not make statements about every local issue that some people felt warranted a statement. As examples, she gave the recent local income tax proposal and the farmers market controversy.

To make a statement about the Seminary Park action and homelessness as a broader issue counted as a “no-brainer” for the party’s executive committee, which had met on a video conference call, Crossley said.

Crossley said that it’s important that people understand that when Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, who’s a Democrat, approved the action to remove the Seminary Park community “that’s not how all Democrats think.”

Chief of police, Mike Diekhoff, who was one of the city department heads who supported the recommendation to take action at Seminary Park, served as a Democrat on the Bloomington city council in the early 2000s. [Crossley did not mention Diekhoff in her remarks to The Square Beacon.]

Crossley also said that people should not be blamed for having no place else to go but the park. “It could have been me,” she said.

Crossley told The Square Beacon her personal history includes a time when she found herself evicted and six-months pregnant. She said she knows people, including family members, who have to live in hotels or in other short-term arrangements in order to get by.

Based on her personal experience, Crossley said, she could not just look away: “The people in the park are somebody’s children, somebody’s mother, father, grandma, grandpa, It’s our moral duty to do something to help.”

The people who wound up in the park have reasons why they don’t go to shelters, Crossley said—some have been banned.

Bans for different lengths of time can be imposed, generally based on violent behavior towards staff, or other residents of Beacon, Inc.’s  shelter, according to executive director Forrest Gilmore.

Crossley said the vote that the board of park commissioners took on Tuesday—against changing the policy on camping to prohibit camping during the day—signalled that the community was opposed to moving people out of the park.

Crossley spoke during public commentary on Tuesday at the board of park commissioners meeting. About the decision to move people out of the park after the board’s vote, Crossley said, “The optics were bad, because the moral of the story is: It was the wrong thing to do.”

Now, Crossley said, it’s important not to point fingers but to start working on finding solutions. “What happened, happened,” she said, and the MCDP statement tries to provide some kind of path for future action.

The party’s written statement says, “We also recognize that a statement without action is useless, and this statement is not the end but the beginning of our commitment to our neighbors experiencing homelessness.”