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.”

The city had posted signs in the park indicating that enforcement would come “on or about Jan. 11.” That was Monday of this week. Monday night came and went with no enforcement action by the city.

The decision to set Jan. 11 as a deadline came before Christmas.

Around the time BPD officers were on the scene on Thursday, College Avenue was blocked off so that city pickups with trailers and a garbage truck could stage along the road.

A contractor was hired for picking up trash in the areas. The contractor’s workers, clad in light blue coveralls and booties, had started their work around 3 p.m.

Thursday’s decision by the mayor’s office to act came about five hours before a scheduled 7 p.m. meeting of the city council’s public safety committee to discuss the situation in Seminary Park and to hear commentary on it.

It’s possible that in a matter of days an additional 50 beds for a low-barrier shelter might be secured by Beacon, Inc. (formerly Shalom Community Center).

According to Centerstone’s Greg May, it is still hoped that the Kinser Flats project will open on Feb. 1, but he could not say for certain. Ground was broken in late 2019 for Kinser Flats, which will be a 50-unit complex for people experiencing homelessness and with substance use disorders. Federal, state, and city of Bloomington money helped fund the project.

The park has already been cleared once this season, on Dec. 9.

Note: About the red-tailed hawk in the set of photos. On Wednesday, the hawk was perched near the top of a tree on the College Avenue side of the park as people packed up their gear for the move into the park. Pigeon Hill Pantry had posted signage in the park that read “This is for the birds.” The food pantry’s commentary is a play on its name. That’s why the hawk is included in the set of photos with this article.