Downtown businesses raise concerns over homeless camp

Businesses and residents are concerned about a homeless camp on the southeast side of downtown.
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A homeless camp just southeast of downtown is getting bigger with the warmer weather and raising concerns among those who live and work nearby.

Jenny Cloud sees the tents from the salon where she works.

"It's a wonderful area and it's kind of bad to have that eyesore," Cloud said.

Her clients see it, too, especially as they drive down Davidson Street to the salon.

"I couldn't get through a client without them making a comment about, 'Oh my gosh, is that where all the homeless people are? I didn't know there were that many...' It's hard to work, building an area up, knowing that many are right here, especially with shelters willing to take them in."

Tina LaGrotte who owns the nearby Milano Inn, also has concerns about the impact on her restaurant. She's counted more than 50 people at the camp.

LaGrotte said, "They do wander in frequently wanting food and wanting to use the restroom...and I came in one morning and found a pillow and blanket in the courtyard."

The problem is not new. Three years ago, the city shut down a homeless camp beneath the Davidson Street bridge after complaints about trash, vandalism and lewd behavior.

The city fenced off the sidewalk beneath the bridge. It's still closed off, but tents have sprouted up nearby, including on CSX Railroad property.

Wednesday, clean-up crews hired by the railroad finished removing belongings and trash on the CSX-owned land as police stood by.

For now, though, the city is letting the camp stay, with police and outreach workers dropping by regularly.

Maurice Young, who describes himself as the camp's advocate, said the location is ideal.

"All of our resources are in close proximity. It's convenient to the needs of the homeless," he said.

When asked about problems in the area with vandalism and other issues, he said the camp is also close to the jail, a work release program and a drug rehab center.

"We have people with mental health issues, criminal background issues and addiction issues," he said, but added those staying at the camp have to abide by the rules and if they don't, they're told to leave.

"We're a community, so we're in the process of looking out for each other and making sure we have a safe place to stay and transition people out of here," he said.

But that doesn't ease their neighbor's concerns.

LaGrotte said, "I know everyone in the neighborhood is terribly concerned, because that camp is getting bigger and bigger."

And LaGrotte said she has tried to help.

"We've even tried to hire a couple of them and they'll do a good job for a few days and they just quit showing up," she said. "I wish I had the answer, but I don't know what it is."

Christy Sheperd, executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention agreed, "it is a 'What do you do?' And we do have various opinions across the city."

She added, "putting them in jail or making them relocate doesn't guarantee they'll get them into services...It's really about relationships with outreach workers that move the chronically homeless so desperately in need to the next step."