Enforcement by city, county against encampments in different locations Thursday night: 1 tent remains at Seminary Park

Seminary Park

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

During a Thursday night meeting of Bloomington city council’s four-member public safety committee, to hear public comment about the houseless encampment in Seminary Park, Monroe County sheriff’s deputies were patrolling county land further south off Rogers Street.

At Seminary Park, after the committee meeting ended around 9 p.m., word had already spread about two arrests made on the county’s property, which includes 87 acres that front Rogers Street north of Cherokee Drive.

A couple hours later, Seminary Park would see its own, second enforcement action of the day.

[Updated at 12:22 p.m. on Jan. 15. The city of Bloomington issued a statement on the topic. “The City will continue actively collaborating with the entire community and region, including other governmental entities (Monroe County government and township trustees) service providers, those with lived experience, faith communities, and philanthropic agencies, to identify short- and long-term alternatives for our residents experiencing homelessness.”]

The statement includes information about where the people’s belongings had been taken: “Switchyard Park maintenance building at 1601 South Rogers Street where they may be retrieved today from 8:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. and Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. starting next week.” The statement also says, “Anyone seeking information about available services including emergency shelter may call 211.”

Monroe County land

This aerial image of the county-owned property off Rogers is from the Monroe County online GIS system.

Monroe County’s sheriff, Brad Swain, confirmed to The Square Beacon that two people were arrested on the county’s land off South Rogers, after county commissioners had requested that the sheriff patrol the property to ensure no trespassing or camping was taking place, according to Swain.

According to Swain, deputies did a patrol of the land, and talked to two men. One was arrested for an active warrant, he said. The second had drugs in his possession and lied about his identity, according to Swain, and was also arrested.

Swain said people at the site were told by deputies to clear their five tents. According to Swain, deputies did not remain there to check that the tents were cleared.

Earlier in the day, some of the people at the Seminary Park encampment had reportedly re-located to the county land, after a city enforcement action, directed by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear the right-of-way near the park.  The Thursday afternoon enforcement came after a Jan. 11 deadline, set by the city in late December, had come and gone Monday night with no enforcement action.

On Thursday late afternoon, after the clearing of the right-of-way, some Seminary Park area campers remained near the same spot, but moved into the park itself. It would mean a reprieve of just a few hours, because overnight camping is prohibited inside the park. The prohibition against occupying the right-of-way is enforceable around the clock.

A few minutes before 11 p.m., vehicles from Bloomington’s police department arrived at Seminary Park. Around a dozen and a half officers were on the scene. They were followed around 11:15 p.m. by trucks with flatbed trailers from the city’s parks department.

Officers stood watch as parks staffers loaded tents onto the trailers. Officers and parks staff got an earful from around two dozen activists as they removed the camping gear.

On the milder end of the spectrum were call-and-response chants of “Housing. First. Housing. First.” Or activists directed admonishments to city workers like, “You could have stayed home from work today!” On the harsher end of things were chants of “Fuck 12!” and “Cops, pigs, murderers!”

When the city’s enforcement started, maybe four to five campers were still in the park. BPD officers eventually reached an understanding with activists at the park that one camper, who was described as “in crisis,” would be allowed to stay in his tent.

A sort of bargain, struck between BPD Captain Scott Oldham and activists, called for BPD officers and activists to depart, leaving two activities to watch after the one camper. Officers were to return at regular intervals to check on the trio through the night.

The understanding was reached first through quiet negotiations which activists then wanted to record on video. That approach nearly went sideways, when the exchange grew tense, but Oldham’s point eventually prevailed: “The park is closed. You need to leave so that we can leave.”

By around 1 a.m. BPD officers had departed the scene. The half dozen activists who were still there when The Square Beacon left looked to be getting ready to head away from the park.

One of the pair who was staying overnight with the camper was Virginia Goodman, who told The Square Beacon she’d been at Seminary Park all day. Goodman is a part of the Limestone Medic Collective, a group of street medics in the Bloomington area.

She said she helped broker the arrangement with BPD for both groups to leave the park, leaving two people to act as caretakers for the camper. She would be staying in her car, she said, because BPD did not want to add to the lone tent that remained in the park by then.

Earlier in the evening, as Goodman was describing the Limestone Medic Collective’s work to The Square Beacon, a man who’s part of Seminary Park houseless community approached, “Hey, can I please have a cigarette?” Goodman obliged. “It’s gonna rain. It’s gonna get cold,” he said.

Around 10 p.m. the temperature was about 40 F degrees, but the 13 mph breeze, with gusts to 23 mph, put the wind chill factor at near freezing. The temperature continued to drop through the night to around 35 F degrees by 5 a.m. The spitting drizzle during the enforcement action did not evolve into rain.