By BRADEN LAMMERS
A local ministry group set up along Interstate 65 on Thursday night and handed out meals, clothes and blankets to homeless community members who said city workers cleared out their camp and took their belongings Wednesday morning.
Paul Stensrud, founder of Jesus Cares at Exit 0, said the problem was that the individuals living under overpasses along I-65 weren’t notified and personal belongings were taken when city workers came through to clean out the camp at about 8 a.m. Wednesday morning.
The city of Jeffersonville and Exit 0 had reached a verbal agreement to notify the ministry group before the street department would sweep the area to collect trash, and Streets and Sanitation Commissioner David Hosea previously said the sweeps would be conducted every Friday, so they at least know its coming.
But some of the people that were living under the bridge said that was not done when Wednesday’s sweep was conducted.
Jack Blanton, who is living near exit 0, said city workers took blankets, a sleeping bag and aluminum cans that were bagged that he had sitting out.
“They woke us up and told us we had to leave,” he said of the city workers. “The one worker that came up to us ... and actually talked to us, said they weren’t really going to do anything with our stuff because they saw that it was occupied and that it wasn’t just abandoned garbage.”
Blanton said he left and went to McDonald’s and the Community Kitchen and by the time he got back, about three hours later, everything was gone.
“They pretty much cleaned out everything where we were,” he said.
Karole McGhee, who was out of the area at the time the city workers came through, said belongings — including a red duffel bag with some clothing and toys, pictures and momentos from her children — were taken.
“We came back to our spot — we don’t have a big place to go, we sleep under a viaduct — we came back and all of our stuff was gone,” she said. “A lot of it was just really special stuff that I didn’t want to put in storage; I wanted to keep it with me. It’s gone.”
City Attorney Les Merkley said the people living near exit 0 were notified the day before street department workers came to clear the area.
Stensrud disagreed and said no city officials contacted his group.
“We just want communication from the city,” he said. “We’re here to build relationships.”
Again, Merkley said the homeless were notified of the sweep and told they could not be in specific areas.
“This is obviously not the first time the city has done this,” Merkley said. “We asked for them to relocate to another part of town, which I don’t think was an unreasonable request. You cannot be in this area, but you can be in the other area near Ninth street by the [former] Colgate property,” he said. “It’s a very unfortunate situation and we need balance the concerns of general public with [those of] the homeless.”
He said the sweeps are made because of complaints made by nearby residents and business owners, as well as being a public health issue, and the city is doing its best not to take any personal property. Merkley said the city and other area municipalities need to find a long-term solution through alternative housing, something for which Stensrud agreed.
“This is a temporary fix, this is not where we want people,” he said.
But Stensrud said the situation was made worse by taking people’s belongings.
“The fact that they took all their blankets ... shows ignorance on [Jeffersonville’s] part,” he said. “What [the homeless] are enduring is hard enough [without] losing what they’ve lost. This is their safe place, their home, and they’re going into their home and just taking everything they own. I mean that’s just wrong.
“Where are they supposed to go?” he asked. “They just have nowhere to go.”
Merkley said he hopes to clear up some of the confusion by presenting a written policy for how the city will conducts sweeps in the future at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting. He said it would give homeless individuals 48 hours notice before a sweep is made and any property collected will be held by the city for 30 days so it can be retrieved.
For the people living under the viaduct, they fear they may have lost what little they do have.
“I have a place to go and the Exit 0 people have been kind enough to give stuff to the people who have lost things,” McGhee said. “They’ve given us more blankets, they’ve given us more clothing, they’ve given us as much as they can give us to replace the things that we’ve lost. But a lot of people out here, we have lost things that are irreplaceable to us.”
• For more information on Jesus Cares at Exit 0, e-mail Info@jesuscaresatexit0.org or call 812-748-2128