Middletown group gets $49K for security to address homeless issue downtown

Officers will be visible in Middletown Wednesday-Sunday and work closely with agency, police

After more than 32 minutes of discussion among city officials, Downtown Middletown Inc. leaders and the police chief, Middletown City Council voted 4-1 to award a $49,724 grant to DMI to provide six months of unarmed security downtown as a pilot program.

Mayor Nicole Condrey voted against the emergency ordinance saying the money should be spent on additional social services and the presence of private security guards will push the homeless out into the neighborhoods.

Condrey doesn’t want the homeless moved around “like chess pieces,” she said.

“That doesn’t set with me,” she said during Tuesday night’s council meeting.

City Manager Jim Palenick said security officers will work downtown from 8 a.m. to midnight Wednesday through Sunday for a total of 80 hours.

ExploreMiddletown council OKs spending $25K to ‘actively address’ homeless issue downtown

DMI will use the grant money from the city’s general fund to hire Allied Universal, the largest security firm in the world, said Jeff Payne, executive director of DMI.

The plan is for the security officers to work closely with OneCity for Recovery, a Mason-based company, and the Middletown police department to curtail the homeless population in the 10-block downtown. OneCity is being paid $25,000 for a six-month contract.

After the pilot programs expire in six months, data from OneCity and Allied will be collected to determine if they’re working or additional steps are needed to address the homeless issue, Palenick said.

Assistant City Manager Susan Cohen said the social workers from OneCity can help remove barriers for the homeless, such as obtaining a valid identification, and find them long-term, stable housing. The program would also help them obtain substance abuse treatment.

Payne said Allied will give the city a consistent set of officers who will ride bikes and closely interact with downtown businesses.

Heather Gibson, owner of Triple Moon Coffee Shop on Central Avenue, one of the most popular downtown destinations, has been vocal about how the homeless impact her business. She was on the DMI committee that met three times to discuss the best way to address the issue.

She has had employees quit after being harassed for money and cigarettes by the homeless, she said.

“I cant continue the way it is,” she said after attending the council meeting. “We have lots of services downtown and those services bring their own set of issues. I want us to be as compassionate as possible.”

Instead of hiring security officers, Condrey said the money would be better used to pay Middletown police officers overtime to work off-duty. She said if there are issues downtown, and the security officers have no authority, police officers will need to respond.

But Middletown police Chief David Birk said his department is understaffed and would be unable to provide 80 hours of off-duty security. He said off-duty Middletown officers earn $50 an hour.

When questioned about the cost of hiring a first-year officer, Birk said that officer would earn a $56,000 annual salary with an additional $23,000 in benefits.

Council member Monica Nenni, who owns downtown businesses, asked Birk if he sees a need for security downtown.

“We have to do something,” he said.

While it’s a citywide issue with homeless camps on the East End near Interstate 75, Birk said the number of social services downtown draws a higher number of homeless in “a concentrated area.”

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