Nearly 100 people upset about homelessness issues facing downtown spoke out during the Middletown City Council meeting Tuesday.
For about an hour, several downtown business owners and residents from the adjacent South Main Street Historic District aired their concerns about an number of homeless people who have been given vouchers or dropped off by other jurisdictions or area entities such as hospitals in downtown Middletown.
City Manager Doug Adkins, who was on vacation last week, spoke about the media coverage since last week’s social media post of police Chief Rodney Muterspaw about the issue.
“There are no silver bullets to solve this,” he said.
Adkins said there are many resources in Butler County, and when people are dropped off in Middletown and officials are made aware of it, he and Muterspaw have contacted their counterparts in other communitiesr. When asked by Councilman Joe Mulligan about a “paper trail” of these communications, Adkins said all have been by phone.
He told council if they want the city to do more, council will need to provide more resources. This could be a time to work with business owners to develop programs or special assessment districts where they could hire extra security, he said.
Adkins the new Hope House facility on Grove Street could ease some of the issue when it opens in the coming months.
“The elephant isn’t hiding behind the couch anymore,” said Heather Gibson, who opened the Triple Moon Coffee Company 4 1/2 years ago. “I’ve begged for help. We have new homeless people who are meaner.”
She said customers recently saw a woman defecating in front of the Pendleton Arts Center and asked for more police downtown.
“I’m invested in the city, but we can’t survive,” she said. “We’ve worked too hard to go backwards.”
Gibson said there needs to be a 24-hour center so that the homeless are not wandering and impacting local businesses by panhandling or causing other problems.
“We need the city to get into the game,” she said.
Amy Wray, who owns Gypsy Soul Healing in The Living Tree downtown, was more direct.
“We’re mad as hell,” she said.
Wray said recently she had a man come into her shop, say he was a vampire slayer and begin to undress himself. Another man followed a child from her shop to the United Dairy Farmers store a block away, she said.
Josh Laubach, a former council member and manager/co-founder of Rolling Mill Brewing Company, said he saw a Butler County deputy drop off a person behind his business earlier in the summer. Another time, a woman was dropped off from Mason.
“To me, it highlights the disrespect for Middletown,” he said. “What the chief put out on social media was exactly right.”
Councilwoman Ami Vitori said council discussed taking action at their Jan. 8 work session and still needs to do something. Vitori called for a task force to be formed and overtime funds for additional police presence.
“We need a process, and we need to make a public statement,” she said. “Human beings shouldn’t be dumped out … We’re a joke and it’s not OK … This council has to take action now.”
Adkins discussed the issue further on Thursday.
“After the council meeting on Tuesday night, I met with staff on Wednesday and started laying out a comprehensive response to the concerns raised by the downtown business community and the Main Street historical group,” Adkins said.
“I am awaiting information from several sources, both internally and externally, to determine the next and most efficient steps to most quickly deal with this issue. As those plans take shape, I will update Council, and with their approval of the recommended actions, I will update the public and implement whatever recommendations are approved for implementation by City Council.”
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