Friday, July 18, 2003

Homeless bask in attention

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] A man who calls himself Wolf (left) joins others in holding signs supporting the homeless Thursday on Third Street at the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
With a day to go before police move them out from under Cincinnati bridges, homeless people spent Thursday protesting and making almost a party under one overpass.

Opponents of the plan to move the people out by 1 p.m. today walked along Third Street near the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge. They carried signs saying homeless people should be helped.

People dropped off bananas and potato chips. Robert Hall, who used to be homeless, fired up a grill for hot dogs. They drank beer from 40-ouncers and Big K cola spiked with vodka. Drivers honked and waved as they passed.

"I believe I've gotten the public's attention on this," said Don Henry, waving back.

He initially said he would leave quietly, as police had asked when they posted the "No Trespassing" signs on Tuesday and gave the homeless people 72 hours' notice.

By Thursday, Henry had become an activist. Someone gave him a cell phone and helped him send out a press release inviting reporters to his "home" under the bridge. He said he changed his mind about leaving peacefully after he saw that the public attention in the past week brought out social service agencies. It made him angry that it took the city's removal threat to attract the offers for jobs and housing.

"It's just all about image," said Lisa Poe, who came from Anderson Township to support her brother, Chris Roberts, who lives under the bridge.

But city officials and police officers say it's a safety issue, too. The homeless walk along the interstates to get to their camps and drivers are distracted by the piles of clothing and garbage.

On Third Street near U.S. Bank Arena, officials from Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries visited several homeless camps Thursday. One 35-year-old veteran accepted their offer of housing and a job program and was living in a Goodwill dormitory by afternoon, said Bruce Keller, special projects supervisor.

They talked to Richard Witherspoon, the man whose tent caught Mayor Charlie Luken's eye two weeks ago. Witherspoon and his wife said they needed time to pack up their stuff, but they said they'd be ready when Keller comes with his pickup truck this morning.

Roberts said he plans to stay. And if he gets arrested? He shrugged. He's been in prison before.


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