City evicts homeless people from downtown riverfront

Tyler gathers his goods after the city serves an eviction notice.
A homeless evictee showed NewsChannel 15 this letter that he received.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Eighteen-year-old Tyler Williams struggled to carry a couple suitcases, a blue tarp, and a backpack over the old Wells Street Bridge Friday afternoon. He’s preparing to move, after the Fort Wayne police notified him, and several others, that they can’t stay where they’ve been living: outside on riverfront property.

About a dozen homeless people received notices Thursday night (pictured to the right) saying that they are violating a city ordinance by staying in a tent on city property, near the river. The notice says they have 24 hours to move, or they could be arrested and have their belongings thrown away.

Williams, 18, told NewsChannel 15 he’s originally from Indianapolis. But when he turned 18, he said he got in a fight with his parents, who then paid for him to be dropped off in Fort Wayne. Williams said he’s been staying in a tent near the Harrison Street Bridge for four months with no issues, until now.

“It kind of makes sense they don’t want to have the homeless setting up tents and stuff in the downtown area. It deters people from coming and visiting,” Williams said. “But it also makes it harder on the homeless because every access to food and shelter and other things is downtown. So for them to push us towards the outer city, that forces us to have less access to food and things that can keep us alive and working on getting what we need to get off the streets.”

Two homeless people move their belongings after being evicted from downtown riverfront property.
Two homeless people move their belongings after being evicted from downtown riverfront property.

Fort Wayne Police Department spokesperson Michael Joyner said the notices are an attempt to not only enforce the ordinance, but also point the homeless toward shelters. “We’re being as compassionate as we can. We’re assisting them in any way we can. We’re providing them information to seek shelter and services that they might need,” he said. “If nothing else, it’s going to get down in the 20’s tonight. I would like to think that the police department is operating in the interest of their safety.”

Joyner said the evictions stemmed from a complaint. Notices were only given to homeless who were staying in park areas near the river. The city doesn’t have jurisdiction under bridges, so the eviction notices were not given there…even though homeless people regularly stay under the Wells Street Bridge.

However, an independent homeless advocate, Taylor Crane, thinks the city is criminalizing the homeless.  “Where are these people going to go? The people who got these notices yesterday, yeah they moved their campsite. But they moved it to another location. They’re just going to get another one. It’s not a resolution,” Crane said. “It’s just sort of a band-aid for the city not to have to look at that.”

CEO of the Rescue Mission Donovan Coley doesn’t think anyone should be living outside, but said eviction notices and threatening arrests is the wrong way to work toward a solution.

“I’m disappointed in that it takes executing or delivering citations for many in our city to respond to the needs. These folks have been living under the bridge and on the streets… I’ve known persons who have been doing that for over 25 years,” Coley said. He thinks city leaders should develop a comprehensive plan to tackle the issue.

“We talk a lot about economic development. But I’m going to be a stuck record and say that human development must be a priority for the Henry administration and for those in our county government as well.”

In August, Coley first told 15 Finds Out about his concerns for the future of the homeless in a revitalizing downtown.

Coley said the Rescue Mission and Charis House are making accommodations to house the evictees and others staying outside, even if they don’t meet zero tolerance drug and alcohol rules at the shelter.

In the meantime, Williams and his friends have moved to a different outdoor location — hoping someone doesn’t complain and get them evicted from city property, again.

“Me and my buddies are moving over to a new spot where, actually, the parks and rec people told us was a good place to go because they won’t bother us,” Williams said.

An evictee shared the notification with NewsChannel 15 which reads:

It is hereby posted that the items contained here are a violation of Fort Wayne City Ordinance.

97.15—Park is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. only
97.18 Damaging property, Erecting Tents/ Structures
97.20—Fastening items to trees
97.21—Alcohol not permitted
97.28—No fires
97.29 Personal property or equipment brought in to parks are at own risk.

You have 24 hours to comply and remove all items. As of 11/14/14 at 12:00 p.m. you are subject to arrest for any of the above listed ordnance and any remaining items will be removed and discarded.

Fort Wayne Police Department

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