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Homeless Fort Wayne Series: Rise in ‘Evictions’ Concerns Homeless, Advocates

Many signs have been posted around the downtown area reinforcing Ordinance 130.01 photo by Chris Johnson

Photo credit: Photo by: Chris Johnson

Many signs have been posted around the downtown area reinforcing Ordinance 130.01 photo by Chris Johnson
Written by: Mikaela ConleyMarch 31, 2016

The Cost

The city of Fort Wayne has spent nearly $37,000 to clean up after the homeless since 2011. The costs, which are a part of the city’s overall annual budget, cover responding to complaints, surveying the area and hiring a

company to handle biohazard labor and waste disposal, according to John Perlich from the mayor’s office.

Referred to as “evictions,” “cleanups” and “relocations,” the city posts notices within 48 hours that homeless individuals have to stop setting up camps at that specific location because of city ordinance 130.01, which

prohibits sleeping in sheds, buildings or other public places.

In 2014 the city spent $3,982 altogether to relocate the homeless. In 2015, $16,072 was spent. But already in 2016, over $6,000 has been spent, showing a drastic increase, according to cityoffortwayne.org/smartgov.

The city has already called for more than three evictions this year, a number that the community has never seen before, especially in the winter, said Sally Becker Segerson, founder of Street Reach for the Homeless.

Rusty York, director of public safety, blamed the increase in evictions on the increase in complaints that had been filed, stemming from the fact that there has been in increased number of individuals living downtown. The more people who live downtown, the more eyes there are to see what is going on, he said.

“The people who live here and work here are very sensitive to their public space. … They can’t take their dog for a walk without encountering issues,” York said over the phone.

The Process

When the city receives a complaint about the homeless individuals in public or private areas, Deputy of the Southwest Division Steve Haffner is called to the complaint location. Haffner surveys the area, reports what he finds to Risk Management and then posts a 48-hour notice of eviction. Hundreds — and sometimes even thousands — of dollars are spent to hire a company that can deal with cleaning up hazardous materials.

“For example, I went over [to the site of a complaint] this morning … some of the things I find [are] not what the public, or kids, need to be finding,” Haffner said, referring to the medical waste, dirty needles, feces and even meth labs that he has reported finding.

When the cleanup company goes out, “anything left behind is just going to be pitched,” Haffner said.

That includes any tents, food, sleeping bags or personal belongings that were left behind.

York said that the items that are thrown away are mainly abandoned property and nothing of much value, referring to wet blankets, sleeping bags and trash.

A couple on the River Greenway filed complaints after being approached by homeless individuals.

The discovery of human feces and leftover food in public places have also given people reason to complain, according to York. 

“You reach a point where sanitation issues arrive, other public health issues arise, rodents and discarded food are found …” York said.

According to the city, local resources are posted on the back of the eviction notices. At the time that the notices are posted advocates around the area are made aware so they can contact the individuals who have been living there before their belongings are discarded.

“The goal is to have a very proactive process. … We are now doing more [to help the homeless] than we ever have done before,” Perlich said. “It will be an ongoing process to do all we can to make a difference.”

The Opposition

However, those who live in the street do not agree.

“When groups of people that go through their closets and pockets and bring [the items] down to help people and the next day the city orders a raid to take it all away, what does that say to people? Why should I donate to somebody if it is just going to be taken?” asked Lanna Autumn Whitedove, a 65-year-old formerly homeless woman and homeless advocate.

Stiks, a 35-year-old man who has lived on the streets of Fort Wayne for two consecutive years, said that sometimes items that still have the price tags on them, good food, sleeping bags and clothes are thrown away.

“I believe you have the right to move them but what I have said is that you cannot take their belongings with no notice, give them no chance to retrieve them because that clearly tramples their 4th and 14th Amendment constitutional rights that are guaranteed to every citizen of this country and just because you don’t have a roof over your head you are not a lesser citizen,” Segerson said.

“Graciously,” the city began reposting notices in January 2016 so advocates such as Segerson had the opportunity to help reclaim personal belongings, Segerson said.

“It is at least seeing them and their belongings as human beings where ‘Everything I won literally is inside of this tent or this bookbag and when I lost this I lost a part of me,’” Segerson said.

Lexie Fretz, a volunteer at Food Not Bombs and co-founder of Common Ground Outreach, said over email, “The constant displacement has left many street homeless emotionally vacant and incredibly depressed. One young man

said he was thinking of ‘just ending it all.’ These evictions communicate to people experiencing homelessness that their social status is inferior, undesirable, and they should just disappear.”

Stiks explained how the increasing number of evictions has become an unending circle.

“We get evicted so we move here and it just goes round and round,” he said. “And we aren’t in the downtown area. We try to stay out of sight and out of mind. … People say, ‘Oh, we are don’t like to look at this.’ Well maybe they need to look at it. Look at it! Realize it!”

Fretz said, “For example, Justin is a 20-year-old sleeping in a tent outside since he was removed from the local men’s shelter for supposedly missing Chapel one time early February. Within the 30 days he must wait to be allowed to return to the shelter Justin has been affected by two encampment evictions. Other than the homeless community, he has no support system and literally has nowhere he can legally sleep.”

“This is one of many examples of how the current way the city of Fort Wayne’s response to homelessness perpetrates and exacerbates suffering by the homeless,” she said.

Local advocates have called for a Housing First approach to the issue of homelessness in the area. Promoted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, this approach puts food and shelter first, before worrying about diagnosing a homeless person with an addiction or an abusive past, which are requirements for some shelters.

“It also means that there is no time limit to how long you can stay. The same people are in and our of transitional shelters. We’re making people fit a deadline. Not everyone fits that deadline,” Segerson said. This type of method says, “I will keep you until you are ready to walk outside these walls and I will support you and I will love you until that day comes.”

One of the reasons the government has not moved to a “housing first” approach is a lack of funds, according to Rebecca Karcher, grants administrator/ director of community engagement for the city of Fort Wayne.

“We don’t have that type of extra resources,” she said over the phone. “We would welcome the community taking this on but it is not the job of the municipal government to house them.”