News & Opinion » News

City moves to clear homeless camp as fencing is built

By

The city of Rochester has begun to sweep a dozen or so residents from the Loomis Street encampment, a homeless camp set up on a city-owned lot tucked away at the intersection of Joseph and Clifford Avenues.

City officials said the residents were being removed from the encampment temporarily while a fence is built around the lot. It’s the first major action the city has taken toward the Loomis encampment this year, and follows months of warnings that residents needed to find somewhere else to go.

Scott, 50, has been homeless for five years and for the past few weeks has lived at the Loomis Street encampment. For residents like Scott, figuring out where to go while they’re barred from the site is not a simple task. CITY is withholding Scott’s last name to protect his privacy.

“Where do people go? You’re not fixing the problem, I know that,” Scott said. “I don’t have any options.”

Crews will build the fence over the next week. Monday morning, Rochester Police Department vehicles lined the perimeter of Loomis Street, patrolling the ground as residents packed up boxes and bags of their meager belongings.

Loomis Street has been a trying spot for local social services organizations. Advocates who’ve worked with the residents say most are actively using heroin. Nonprofits like Person-Centered Housing Options stopped going to Loomis Street months ago, deeming it too dangerous for its staff. Meanwhile, smaller, grassroots organizations tended to the site, providing resources to the camp and helping forward residents into treatment.

On Monday, the city issued cease and desist letters to two of those organizations, Recovery All Ways and the New York Recovery Alliance, demanding that the groups’ volunteers not interfere with any developments on the lot.

In the letter, the city’s top attorney noted that the city only intends to temporarily remove residents from the camp.

“The city does not intend to permanently remove these individuals from the site at this juncture, and merely seeks to clear the area so that the fence installation work may proceed without incident,” read the letter from Corporation Counsel Linda Kingsley.
City of Rochester Corporation Counsel Linda Kingsley. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • City of Rochester Corporation Counsel Linda Kingsley.

In a news conference, Kingsley said the city has held back on taking action to remove people from the site, but insisted that they have good reason and cause to do so. Kingsley also said criminal charges may be pressed on anyone who attempts to stop the construction of the fence.

“Of course there’s a concern for the residents, that’s why we’ve been patient as long as we’ve been patient,” Kingsley said. “But there’s also concern for the neighbors, who are very worried about this, they’re worried about the drugs, they’re worried about the drug dealers there, they’re worried about the needles that are scattered around it.”

A federal lawsuit filed last month by plaintiffs including Recovery All Ways and the New York Recovery Alliance sought to block any attempt by the city to sweep the Loomis Street encampment on civil rights grounds.

At the camp Monday, volunteer Christopher Monk was working to help residents find a place to go. He said for many of the residents of Loomis, a shelter, like Open Door Mission or the newly-reopened House of Mercy, may not be a viable option.

Several residents of the encampment noted they don’t feel safe at shelters. Heavy restrictions and monitoring at the shelters also discourage some residents from seeking beds there.

“A lot of the restrictions keep people out here,” Monk said. “You can’t charge your phone, they search your bags on the way in and out. They’re saying it’s a security concern, but they treat people like children.”

Rochester City Council President Miguel Melendez and Councilmembers Kim Smith and Michael Patterson all came to Loomis Street to monitor the developments at the encampment. Melendez said it was a tough situation with no easy solutions.

“There was just a fatal overdose, over the summer there was a stabbing related to the encampment of someone living here,” Melendez said. “It’s a tough balancing act.”

Melendez supports providing city funding for pallet shelters for the homeless. That approach is similar to models used in cities like Tacoma, Washington, which uses reclaimed pallet wood to make micro-homes for the homeless.

In September, the city of Rochester approved a $250,000 contract with Person-Centered Housing Options for support of Peace Village, a city-sanctioned camp on Industrial Street that has rudimentary shelters. Peace Village currently houses about the same amount of people as Loomis.

Meanwhile, Scott prepares to bag up his belongings, unsure of his next destination. He came to Loomis Street after being robbed in his tent he had set up on his own. Here, he found safety in numbers.

He sees the options for the city as simple.

“Place people, I mean, it’s not that hard to place somebody,” he said. “They have the funds, they have places that are open, I don’t get it.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com

Tags