Bloomington council votes down proposed law against camping, storing property in right-of-way

Voted down on Wednesday by Bloomington’s city council, with just two votes in favor, was an ordinance that would have explicitly prohibited camping, storing personal property, or blocking the public right-of-way, among other things.

Supporting the ordinance were Sue Sgambelluri and Susan Sandberg. Abstaining was Dave Rollo. The other five councilmembers who were present all voted against it. Ron Smith was absent.

Rollo said he was inclined to bring a motion to table the ordinance. Councilmember Jim Sims said he was inclined to put off a vote, but if it came down to a vote that night, he would vote no.

A basic concern for those who opposed the ordinance was that it punishes the unhoused population, without offering a solution for storing their belongings in a place other than the public right-of-way.

Councilmember Matt Flaherty’s sentiments reflected the views of others, when he said that crafting a better ordinance “will take months of community engagement and outreach and collaboration between the executive and legislative branch and the whole community to arrive at a solution.”

Flaherty added, “So I don’t think this is honestly well suited for just tabling or postponing and bringing back with a few clarifications, in a few weeks time.” Rollo said it was clear that there would not be majority support for tabling, so he did not make that motion. Continue reading “Bloomington council votes down proposed law against camping, storing property in right-of-way”

Encampment on county-owned land: Local disaster declared by Monroe County commissioners

An encampment on county-owned land west of Bloomington has prompted action by the Monroe County board of commissioners two Wednesdays in a row.

Last week, commissioners added to their agenda a contract with Bio-One, which is an Indianapolis-based company specializing in “extreme cleaning.”

The $3,500-per-day contract  covered clearing out the trash and debris that was expected to be left behind, after the sheriff’s office enforced an order to vacate the encampment, which was located behind the At Home store, just west of I-69.

But the cleanup that started last Thursday, the day after Bio-One’s contract was approved, turned out to require more work than expected.

So at this Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners voted to extend Bio-One’s contract another 15 days for a total of 20 days, which could cost as much as $70,000.

In other related action this Wednesday, commissioners invoked a state statute to declare an emergency—in order to speed up the process for hiring a contractor to clear trees under 12 inches in diameter, undergrowth and underbrush on the property.  The idea is to improve lines of sight into the property, to monitor for future  encampments.

Under IC 5-16-1-1.6, commissioners don’t need to advertise for bids, but do have to invite quotes from at least three firms. Administrator for the commissioners, Angie Purdie, is authorized in the emergency declaration, to execute the lowest quote that is received by Thursday at 9 a.m. Continue reading “Encampment on county-owned land: Local disaster declared by Monroe County commissioners”

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.

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

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

Seminary Park

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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.

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

Seminary Park encampment clearance still on course for “on or about” Jan. 11

Jan. 11 is still the date when Bloomington is planning to clear an encampment from the area around Seminary Park at 2nd Street and College Avenue, city officials say.

Estimates of the number of people who are staying there, reporting that they have no other place to go, vary from a dozen and a half up to more than 50, with additional numbers socializing there during the day.

Since the Dec. 9 clearance of the park by the city, the strip of public right-of-way along the road, and probably a little more, has been re-established as a place where people are sleeping, socializing and storing their warming accoutrements.

Early the week of Jan. 4, city staff planted signs on stakes in the area, giving notice of the clearance date. It is described on the signs as “on or about” Jan. 11. Some of the signs were immediately pushed over by park campers.

The signs include the text: “It is our hope that everyone currently in the Seminary Park area will find safe shelter/housing alternatives by January 11 by taking advantage of the opportunities available through the agencies that serve those experiencing homelessness.”

The suggested contact points listed out on the signs include: Beacon/Shalom Center, Friend’s Place, Wheeler Mission, New Hope Family Shelter, Amethyst House, Perry Township trustee’s office, and Middle Way House.

It was before Christmas when the city settled on the Jan. 11 date.

The more recent signage can be analyzed as a response to the criticism that the city gave no clear indication that enforcement action was imminent before its Dec. 9 park clearance. It came just after the board of park commissioners had declined the administration’s request to extend a nighttime prohibition of camping to daytime hours. Continue reading “Seminary Park encampment clearance still on course for “on or about” Jan. 11”

Press Release: Bloomington investigating death of Seminary Park camper

In a press release issued late Thursday afternoon, Bloomington’s police department announced that it is investigating the death of a 51-year-old man who was staying  at the Seminary Park encampment.

Seminary Park looking south along College Avenue on Dec. 22, 2020.

According to the news release, the officers responded to a call around 11:40 a.m., which was made by a passerby, who said several people at the park had asked them to call 911.

Officers and EMS staff attempted to resuscitate the man but were not successful, according to the release. The release says that others at the park had spoken to the man earlier in the morning and he seemed fine.

According to the news release, several people had tried the day before to get the man services and had offered him overnight accommodations but the man had refused and slept in the park.

BPD had checked on the man once during the evening hours of Dec. 23 and twice on the morning of Dec. 24th, but the man was sleeping and refused any assistance, according to the news release.

The news release says there were no signs of foul play or injuries to the man.

Continue reading “Press Release: Bloomington investigating death of Seminary Park camper”

Bloomington looks to nonprofits to help place Seminary Park area campers elsewhere by Jan. 11

Just south of the historical marker placed at Seminary Park, near College Avenue, a campsite persists this week.

That’s after people and their belongings were removed from the park two weeks ago by a combination of Bloomington police officers, the department’s social worker, and other nonprofit street outreach staff who work with those experiencing homelessness.

The Wednesday night removal two weeks ago was based on a violation of park rules, which prohibit overnight camping.

The dozen tents now pitched near the park look like they’re at least partly in the public right-of-way, based on the parcel boundaries from Monroe County’s online property lookup system.

Camping in the public right-of-way is also not something the city has to allow.

On Jan. 11, the city won’t be allowing it any longer, according to Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael.

Carmichael told The Square Beacon, “We’ve asked funders and providers to transition folks overnighting in the Seminary Park area to alternative shelter/housing or camping by Jan. 11.” She added that the city of Bloomington will continue its efforts to point park area campers to other resources.

Carmichael added that an initial deadline of Jan. 8 had been set, but after more discussion, was shifted to three days later.

The roughly three weeks that remain before the next potential removal action by the city of Bloomington will give the city and local organizations some time to sort out possible alternatives.

[Updated Dec. 24, 2020 at 5:24 p.m. Bloomington’s police department issued a press release late Thursday afternoon announcing the death of one of the Seminary Park campers. The news release states: “There were no signs of foul play or injuries to the man.”] Continue reading “Bloomington looks to nonprofits to help place Seminary Park area campers elsewhere by Jan. 11”