By Ryan Berry
GREENVILLE — The City of Greenville is taking steps to clean up “unsanitary conditions” under the Martha Benkert Memorial Bridge on South Broadway. The area along the Tecumseh Trail and Greenville Creek has become a refuge for homeless people in the city.
The city erected a notice earlier this week giving persons who use the area for shelter 72 hours to remove their belongings. It states, “Any items left behind will be considered trash and will be thrown away.”
The messaging and ultimatum have some people in the city wondering how the city can be this “barbaric” and push its residents out into the cold weather.
Bishop Lee Bowling, of the Church of God of the Apostolic Faith on Markwith Avenue in Greenville, has been the city’s biggest critic of the newly approved encampment ordinance and one of the biggest supporters of individuals who are homeless in the community.
Bowling understands there are some homeless individuals that aren’t looking for help, have mental health issues or are drug and alcohol abusers, but he doesn’t believe anyone is working to get to the root cause of homelessness in the community. The new ultimatum by the city immediately had him making calls to see if he could get the health department or the city to delay their ultimatum.
He doesn’t believe the city has the authority without a warrant to take possession of the property that is under the bridge. However, a letter issued to the city by the Darke County General Health District quotes the Ohio Revised Code Section 3707.01(B) that gives the authority to the general health district to remove all nuisances within its jurisdiction. Jordan Francis, incoming health director for Darke County, pointed out that while the health department itself won’t remove the nuisance it does give the city the authority to remove the nuisance.
As for the 72-hour deadline, Francis pointed out the health department did not give that order. However, the health department wrote, “At this time, we are asking you to remove all nuisances, clean up the area, and ask individuals living under the bridge to seek a new, permanent shelter.” The letter went on to ask the city to present a plan to the health department on how they will address the issues within 30 days. At time the 72-hour notice was posted on the bridge, Francis said the city had not responded to the health department’s letter that was sent to Mayor Steve Willman dated Oct. 14.
According to Francis, the Greenville Police Department initiated the call to the health department due to “unsanitary conditions, general nuisances, trash under the bridge, which included bags of trash, food waste, etc. Trash being thrown into Greenville Creek, fires being started for cooking and other personal items such as mattresses. People living under bridge, which is not an approved dwelling and without restrooms present, feces and urine, some people present have criminal violations and the bike path is nearby.”
Bishop Bowling agrees it is a “filthy mess” under the bridge. “I’m willing to go under there to make sure it’s clean,” he said. He said he asked the city to let him handle it. “Let me work with these people. Then, if they do it again, I understand.”
Bowling said he is currently working with 50-60 people that are consistently homeless and has worked with 150 to 200 people. He has opened his church to allow them to come in and take showers, as well as working with them to find employment, shelter or education.
He is currently working to establish a day shelter for the homeless. Through Hope’s Home, Bowling and his organization are working to come up with a male and female day shelter to get the homeless out of the cold for the fall and winter months. They believe it will cost up to $2,400 a month for both shelters. Bowling said, “Let’s be honest with ourselves. Shelters solve sleep, soup kitchens solve hunger, but housing solves homelessness. Our council and mayor need to meet with us as community leaders and let’s address the core issues at hand.” He admits there is not an easy solution. “The seeds of chronic homelessness, with the addictions and mental illness that often accompany it, must be addressed in our city.”
Bowling pledged to continue the fight against the city’s order to remove the possessions of those who are living under the bridge. “I don’t want to file a (law) suit because that takes more money.” He wants to use the money he has to help the homeless in other ways.
The Daily Advocate reached out to the city’s law director, Michael Rieman, but did not get a response before the article was published.
To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected].