Saturday, April 20, 2002

Protesters threaten lawsuit

By Cindy Schroeder,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — As city crews resumed their cleanup of riverbank homeless camps Friday, 50 protesters met them with threats of a lawsuit, chants for justice and signs bearing messages like “Stop the looting.”

        “We're family down here,” said protester Ray Moore, 28, who figures he's lived on Covington's Ohio riverbank “off and on for six years.”

        “We want to let the city know we're standing up for our rights, and they can't walk all over us,” he said. Besides homeless people, the protesters included representatives of five Northern Kentucky social service agencies.

        City officials who visited the scene Friday described the setting as a health hazard and a safety risk. After viewing the piles of bottles and temporary shelters marking much of West Covington's Ohio Riverfront, they vowed to do whatever it takes to clean it up.

        Mark Teegarden, who volunteers for agencies serving homeless people, said about 14 of the riverbank inhabitants met Thursday night with a Covington lawyer to discuss filing a lawsuit against the city.

        Mr. Teegarden and other advocates for the homeless have said everything from personal photos to a litter of kittens were scooped up and destroyed when city public works crews began razing homeless camps on Monday.

        Covington officials have said they removed illegal temporary housing, including tents and tarps, on Monday, because of concerns about liability and safety on the city-owned property. Any personal items removed were taken because they were a health hazard, they said.

        “Everyone was given notice (before Friday) to get their personal property out,” said Lt. Col. Michael Kraft, acting Covington police chief.

        “We were concerned for the health of the workers,” Lt. Col. Kraft said. “(They) were dealing with things like a mattress so soaked with urine and human feces that it wasn't safe to touch.”

        On Friday, Covington Mayor Butch Callery, City Commissioner Alex Edmondson and City Solicitor Jay Fossett walked through many of the riverbank camps and observed part of the cleanup by general services crews.

        “Until you walk these paths, I don't think you can appreciate how much debris is down here,” Mr. Edmondson said, as he followed a well-worn muddy path around piles of bottles, empty cans and a rusty grocery cart.

        As protesters chanted, “coward” and “We need a new mayor” Friday morning, Mr. Callery held up a list of social service agencies in Cincinnati, Newport and Covington and asked the protesters to be part of the solution to the homeless problem.

        Mr. Callery later vowed to continue the cleanup next week, weather permitting. “I think if folks are that interested (in the homeless problem), they ought to come up with solutions,” he said.

        “There are 24 shelter beds (for men) in Northern Kentucky, and no shelter beds for anyone with alcohol on their breath,” Rachael Winters, homeless services coordinator for the Welcome House social service agency, said later.


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- Protesters threaten lawsuit