Hamilton police, city and county social services and volunteers worked together late this summer to get people living in “tent city” on Dixie Highway shelter and assistance.
But when the deadline, pushed by private property owners who had as many as 10 tents on the land behind Hamilton Plaza, was up, police began issuing citations. Property owners wanted people living on the land gone, and police enforced the law, but with compassion, according to the police chief.
From Sept. 30 to Oct. 10, officers issued 16 criminal trespass citations at the property or surrounding private properties, according to Hamilton Municipal Court records.
Eight defendants did not show up for their court dates and bench warrants where issued, but they might have been withdrawn after further contact with the court. Two people did not show up for court because they are in drug treatment. One case was continued, and five defendants were convicted, given fines and told to stay away from “tent city.”
The citation for one person was dismissed, but the defendant received a second citation within days. And one person’s case was set for a preliminary hearing because they are also charged with a felony drug offense.
“As far as I know there has not been anybody back out there in probably a couple weeks,” said Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit.
“I think it was overall a success. I think we mobilized a lot of community outreach and a lot of services, and I think we were able to connect a lot of people and get them some help that the otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.”
Property owners had replace fencing, and police worked with property owners on the other side of the tracks to clear out debris that was left when the site was abandoned, according to Bucheit.
In the end, property owners reclaimed their land, and those who wanted help received an offer - multiple times.
Bucheit said it is a balance between providing services to people, but making sure that the business owners and property owners’ rights are protected.
“I would absolutely agree that there are more people who are homeless or transient today than I have ever seen in my career,” Bucheit said. “This is a very complex social issue that is going to require a lot of coordination among a variety of organizations, and it is going to be a significant issue for communities in this region for the foreseeable future. We have to do a better job of coordinating resources.”
And there are successes. A Vietnam veteran, very polite and friendly if spoken to, “lived” during the day on a bench located on the second floor of the Butler County Government Services Center, a public building, for several weeks. He arrived quietly about 8:30 a.m. and left when doors were closing at 4:30 p.m.
People stopped to talk with him about his military service, asked if he was hungry and brought him food.
Hamilton Municipal Court employees contacted Kathy Becker, community advocate and former city council member, to see if he qualified for help.
“He finally did meet with Veterans Service, qualified for benefits and now has an apartment,” Becker said.
She said there are many reasons why some people will not take help — mental health issues, substance abuse issues or past trouble with the law — but when it come to helping people leave the Dixie Highway camp, all agencies did everything they could.
“The met with us. The court (Hamilton Municipal) was willing to work with us if the had active misdemeanor warrants, which can make it more difficult to find a shelter,” Becker said.