Business owners angered by Broad Ripple homeless camp

A homeless camp under the Westfield bridge has been active for years.
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A homeless camp in Broad Ripple has long been a safety concern for people visiting, working and living in the north side Indianapolis neighborhood.

Several young people live under the bridge at Westfield Boulevard, and residents say it's been a problem for years. Last week, a burglary by one of the homeless was caught on camera. Now a Broad Ripple business owner is fed up and wants police to crack down.

On video, business owner JR Walsh watches someone else enjoy his alcohol.

Police say the man in the video is 24-year-old Micah Stephenson, and they also say he stole that alcohol, along with a television, a laptop and a computer monitor.

The video shot by Walsh's friend led police and Walsh underneath the Westfield bridge.

"As the road goes across the river, you kind of have this little void underneath and they have built a city under there," said Walsh.

"There was office furniture. There were shopping carts. Things that no one in their right mind would own. They are things that have been acquired. The question is, where did they acquire them? From us," he said.

Micah Stephenson and 21-year-old Sophie Wagner were also charged with stealing from another Broad Ripple business after that owner's belongings were found underneath the bridge.

Eyewitness News has learned Stephenson has a long history with police, both as a victim and as perpetrator. In 2000, he was charged as a juvenile for rape.

"I asked one of the officers under the bridge - what is the city doing about this? The response was, we're kind of expected to turn a blind eye because they don't want us to look bad," said Walsh.

But Sgt. Bob Hipple with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's Homeless Initiative Task Force says that's not the case.

"It is not a blind eye. It's a very difficult situation," he said.

Sgt. Hipple is one of five police officers assigned to Indy's Homeless Initiative Task Force. He says while they know this has been a homeless camp for years, the so-called "bridge kids" can only be arrested if they break the law.

"I cannot force anyone into services and I can't force anybody into shelters. It is not illegal to be homeless," he said.

"We are not going to let these kids take advantage of us anymore or move us out. We're gonna move them out," said Walsh.

Both business owners involved in these recent burglaries say they are forced to pay and install more security cameras.

Statement to WTHR From the Broad Ripple Village Association about the homelessness problem:

"The expectation is the same for everyone who visits the Village. This is a community, this is people's home and place of business. We welcome everyone to the Village as long as they treat it with respect. If they don't, we invite them to go elsewhere."

Children of the Street: Read Anne Ryder's 2011 story about homeless youth in Indianapolis.