Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Bridge dwellers get a reprieve

Judge orders homeless can stay 20 days

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

People living under Cincinnati bridges can stay at least 20 more days because a federal judge issued a temporary order Monday that prevents the city from moving them.

The city may face a related legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union. The group said Monday the city's 2002 anti-panhandling ordinance violates a permanent federal injunction issued five years ago and the ACLU of Ohio has voted to sue the city, said Scott Greenwood, the group's general counsel.

"The city has identified homeless people and people who ask others for money as criminals," he said.

A city council member said Monday authorities researched the previous ruling before writing the 2002 law.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott granted the temporary restraining order requested Friday by lawyers for Donald Henry, a 40-year-old homeless man who lives under an overpass along Third Street. She ordered the two sides to file arguments within 20 days, outlining their positions on whether Henry, his girlfriend and their friends should be allowed to live under the bridge.

After the 20 days, the judge will consider a longer-term preliminary injunction.

Dlott's decision came after hours of testimony from Henry, Georgine Getty, director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless; David Ginsburg, president and CEO of Downtown Cincinnati Inc.; and Capt. James Whalen, commander of Cincinnati police District 1.

Henry said family and social-service agencies have offered him housing. "I'm staying where I'm at," he said. Police told him he would be arrested if he did not vacate his "bin" under the highway, he said.

Whalen said the city's chief concern is safety. In two recent accidents, he testified, cars skidded up under the overpass toward Henry and the others who live there. Even though the homeless people thought police were coming for them at 1 p.m. Friday, the city never had any plans to immediately roust anyone.

"We're not looking to fight with anybody over this," he said.

Monday's hearing dealt only with Henry's request to live under the bridge. But the accompanying federal lawsuit, filed by attorney Jennifer Kinsley, also attacks the city's two anti-panhandling laws. Both of them, as well as the city's attempt to move the homeless people out, are unconstitutional, the suit alleges.

But it's the panhandling law passed last year restricting where people can panhandle that the ACLU plans to challenge. The law, Greenwood said, is too similar to one enacted in 1995. In 1998, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction that restricted police from enforcing that law, Greenwood said.

Councilman Pat DeWine, chairman of council's Law and Public Safety committee and a lawyer, said the city thoroughly researched that 1998 decision before writing the newer law.

He questioned why it took the ACLU a year to decide to raise another challenge.


E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com

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