Friday, Aug. 20 deadline posted: B-Line bridge encampment removal to be guided by new general police order

View of the B-Line Trail bridge at Grimes Lane looking northeast. (Aug. 17, 2021)

Bloomington officials are now looking to remove the encampment under the B-Line Trail bridge at Grimes Lane. It was established around four and half months ago.

On Tuesday, sometime before 5 p.m., several signs were posted by the city of Bloomington under the bridge and along the trail. The signs give formal notice of a deadline for the campers to find a different place to sleep.

Over the last few weeks, the camp’s footprint has expanded north of the bridge to include around a dozen tents along the east side of the B-Line Trail.

The posted signs read: “If you stay here overnight, please find safe shelter elsewhere by Friday, Aug. 20.”

The signs include a list of resources like the Shalom Community Center, Friends Place, Wheeler Mission, and New Hope Family Shelter.

No clock time is given for the deadline.

That’s consistent with the city’s past approach to such posted notices. The signs posted in Seminary Park at the start of the year described the deadline as “on or about Jan. 11.” Action by the city to remove the Seminary Park campers came on Jan. 14.

A prelude to the city’s posting of notices on Tuesday came a day earlier. That’s when the mayor’s office released a document described as updating the city of Bloomington “policies regarding behaviors in and use of public spaces with the goals of improving safety and health, and maintaining public space for the benefit of all.”

A highlight of the document is a new general police order, dated Aug. 13, 2021, with the title “Police Interaction with Homeless Encampments.” The order describes certain procedures that are supposed to be followed by the police when removing a homeless encampment.

Some of the points in the general order are similar to the requirements that were part of the city council’s proposed ordinance on protections for homeless encampments, which failed in early March to win approval.

Among those points is a requirement that notices be posted in advance. The general order says a notice has to be given 72 hours (3 days) before an action to remove an encampment. The city council’s ordinance would have required a much longer period: 15 days.

The general order addresses the belongings of the people in an encampment: “The personal property of transient persons and persons experiencing homelessness shall be respected.” The general order also describes how the personal items of people in the encampment have to be collected and stored in a secure location for 30 days.

The city council’s ordinance would have required that personal belongings be stored for 60 days.

The city council’s ordinance would have also required efforts to place campers in alternate housing and that sufficient transitional housing be available to accommodate campers. That’s an element that doesn’t appear to be a part of the general police order.

An additional policy document issued on Monday says, “Before closing an encampment, the city will confirm the number of available shelter beds for individuals in the encampment who do not have other overnight shelter options, and will offer a shelter bed to as many individuals as possible.”

The city council’s ordinance, which failed on a 4–4 vote, was proposed in response to a decision by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December  and again in mid-January.

The notices posted on Tuesday note that “Camping is not allowed on public property.” That is one of several complaints about the encampment at Grimes Lane and the B-Line that have been logged on Bloomington’s  uReport system in the last few months.

A dozen and a half complaints in the last six weeks allege that a bicycle chop shop is operating at the location, dogs are off-leash, campers are urinating in public, and that trail users are getting yelled at by campers.

Recent public discourse on the topic included last week’s plan commission meeting when a rezone request was heard for Wheeler Mission. It’s located west of Rose Hill Cemetery, off 3rd Street. Some owners of surrounding businesses complained to plan commissioners about the way some of the Wheeler Mission shelter guests or nearby campers impacted them.

Dana Jones, director of Wheeler Mission Ministries, pointed out that for people to be camping out is not something unique to Wheeler Mission’s location. “We have an issue with camping throughout our community,” Jones said.

For the highly visible camp at Grimes Lane and the B-Line an eventual response from the city was expected, based on the clearances of Seminary Park late last year and early this year.

The fact of Monday’s news release from the mayor’s office indicated some action was probably imminent, even if signs were not posted that day.

Responding to an emailed question from The B Square, Bloomington communications director Yael Ksander wrote: “This isn’t an initiative to remove every encampment wherever one exists.”

Ksander’s reply continued, “ [The Grimes Lane and B-Line Trail encampment] is on parks property and has been the site of illegal activity in a public space, so the city is focusing on this one at the moment.”