News and Tribune

Floyd County

August 9, 2013

Bridging the impasse

Incident spurs conversation among bridge project planners, advocates about impact on homeless

JEFFERSONVILLE — It’s home to between 30 and 70 people and they are being forced out, mainly for their own safety.

A string of homeless camps exist along Interstate 65 in Jeffersonville and Clarksville. But as the construction crews for the Ohio River Bridges Project move into the area, there is concern that the people will be losing their homes, or that they could get hurt during the construction project.

And one incident has already caused tension between the crews, the homeless and their advocates.

A construction crew worker with a subcontractor was clearing an area near Seventh Street in Jeffersonville recently and removed the belongings of a homeless man who was living near the overpass, but who was not there at the time.

Jim Moon, pastor at Park Memorial United Methodist Church and member of Jeffersonville’s Homeless Task Force, said he contacted the contractor to find out what happened.

“That did not go well,” he said.

He said the person he spoke with hung up on him, so then he went up the ladder through the project hierarchy, which spurred a meeting held Thursday at Jeffersonville City Hall to ensure communication exists between the groups.

The level of frustration extended to Paul Stensrud, founder of Jesus Cares at Exit 0, a homeless outreach group. He is also a member of the Jeffersonville homeless task force.

“We have a law in the city of Jeffersonville stating [48] hours notice be given before an encampment goes,” Stensrud said.

The law was put in place after concerns were raised about Jeffersonville’s Street Department conducting sweeps of homeless camps and removing property without notice. A new policy was reached that before the city would do any sweeps through homeless camps notice would be given. But the policy was not followed when the aforementioned crew came through the area and cleared it.

“Within 24 hours that camp was gone with no notification,” Stensrud said. “The boy’s just got the clothes on his back now.”

While there is a level of understanding that exists between the parties, greater communication was called for, and agreed to, at the meeting.

“When [construction workers] are talking to them, they’re a person trying to do a job, but this is their home,” Moon said of the homeless. “That’s where the impasse comes in. What we want to know is how to help the people that are here ... [and] to move them to a new location that is best suited to them. We don’t think it’s in the best interest of the state, or in the best interest of the construction companies to be the ones interfacing with homeless people that they don’t know,” Moon said.

And the project planners agreed.

Blake Morris, Walsh Construction project manager for section three of the downtown portion of the bridges project, apologized for the incident.

“We’ve told our guys from now on, no one is allowed to interact with the [homeless],” he said. If there is an issue in the future the project managers or transportation department leaders are to be contacted in order to get in touch with the task force members.

“It’s not safe for people to be out in a construction zone,” said Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Project Manager Andy Barber. “We’re wanting the same goal here.”

Morris outlined the upcoming construction schedule that includes tree removal and clearing projects he said crews hope to start this week. In addition, before October, plans are to have a new Court Avenue ramp constructed and open to traffic, as well as having a temporary exit ramp southbound on 10th Street and widened lanes near Stansifer Avenue.

A homeless camp near the 10th Street ramp referred to as tent city housed about 17 to 20 people. Stensrud said most of the people living in that area have been moved out, but a few remain.

There are also more than a dozen people living under the Seventh Street overpass. The area is planned as a main route for construction equipment and will eventually be closed down as the underpass will be shifted down to Sixth Street.

And as construction gears up planners are trying to ensure the safety of those in the area. But it’s become more difficult to track those that were living in the area and determine who is still there.

“Right now, they’re scattering everywhere,” Stensrud said. “We’re losing people. And that’s why with closing our feedings down, it’s going to hurt, due to the fact that’s where they normally congregate so we can talk to them.”

Because construction is about to begin, bridge planners have also asked that meals that were being provided at the overpass at exit 0 stop being handed out at the location.

“We’ve shut down our meals because we understand we’re in that hot zone,” Stensrud said. “Now, we’re working with the task force and others just to find a location outside that hot zone so we can continue to do the ministry.”

Mindy Peterson, spokeswoman with the Ohio River Bridges Project, said planners met with Stensrud last week to work with him in trying to clear the construction area.

“They cannot be provided in the unsafe area that is in the work zone,” she said of the meals. “We certainly would not want to prevent meals being served to people in need,” she added.

 

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