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Homeless encampments cleared

Riverfront
Sep. 04, 2013 @ 06:52 AM

HUNTINGTON -- The city of Huntington, its police department and partner agencies on Tuesday cleared tent encampments used by homeless people along the Ohio River in a move Police Chief Skip Holbrook said was meant to sustain progress in cleaning up Harris Riverfront Park.

The sweep was planned weeks in advance because of a recent uptick in aggressive panhandling, public intoxication and other nuisances, such as fighting and vagrancy, the police chief said.

"You put that together and that kind of leads to a perception of the area not being safe," Holbrook said. "We've made too much progress ... to slip backwards."

Tuesday's sweep concluded a coordinated effort between the city, the Cabell-Huntington Coalition for the Homeless, the City Mission, Cabell County Information and Referral and other agencies. They notified those at the encampments of the impending sweep, assessed their needs and provided them a list of area services.

David Smith, a case worker with Information and Referral, and others met last week with 13 people who had been living at the encampments. Others placed the estimated riverbank population between 10 and 15.

Indications were each of the homeless residents complied with the early notice and vacated the encampments before Tuesday morning, according to Smith and Holbrook.

It was unknown where they relocated, said Smith and Bob Hansen, director of the Coalition for the Homeless. Both said they anticipate learning that answer as some of those in need return seek services.

Smith described many of those who were living at the riverbank as newly homeless, meaning they sought refuge there within the last month or so. The length of time varied for others, as did all of their prior locations with some being from the Tri-State and others from as far as Arkansas.

Neither Hansen nor Smith offered an opinion on Tuesday's sweep, but said they understood the city's position.

"It's not a question of our supporting or not, our goal is to serve homeless people," Hansen said. "Every city, I think, has special places. Ours happens to be on the riverbank so to speak. This is a national problem."

Holbrook acknowledged as much, calling Huntington a metropolitan area with many available sources of help, such as medical, mental health or transitional housing.

"This is where you come," he said. "Anytime you have that population that is in flux like that, and it ebbs and flows, you're going to have some issues that you occasionally have to respond to or try to mitigate and that's kind of what we're doing here."

A similar tent clearing happened in 2007, as city leaders embarked upon a strategy to better maintain Harris Riverfront Park. The broader project eventually included the transfer of maintenance for the 24.8-acre park to the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District. It is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the city having a lifetime lease.

Follow Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.

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