Downtown homeless camp stirs call to action

Economy, Business and FinanceBusinessRailway TransportationTravelTransportationScott Williams

It's a sight that's generated both anger and sympathy. Now a homeless camp beneath a railroad bridge on Davidson Street near downtown Indianapolis has metro police, advocacy groups, businesses and community members all gathering together in hopes of figuring out what should be done with the settlement. The problem: many disagree how to help.

"Not doing anything is not an option," said Indinapolis Police Sgt. Bob Hipple. "I'll tell everyone at the table that right now. Something is going to have to be done."

Hipple joined with more than 40 different groups at the Horizon House with that common goal in mind. But there are differing views on how to keep people from living beneath the Davidson street railroad bridge. Many of the homeless who live there either refuse to follow the rules and guidelines of religious-based shelters or simply don't stay past the meals because they choose to drink or do drugs.

Scott Williams is one of many people living beneath the bridge. He attended the meeting, but said he has lost trust in some of those he's now trying to work with.

"I'd rather work with someone who has been helping me rather than someone new that now decides they want to help," Williams said.

As advocacy groups rush to help out, some say all the aid is creating a culture of dependence beneath the bridge.

"My thing is, even when they're here they don't pick up after themselves," said Marie Turner, who works with the Horizon House.

Despite Turner's current job, she says she too lived beneath a bridge for roughly eight months of her life. She says she believes the problem on Davidson Street has grown because so many groups are bringing food and supplies. She thinks many living there don't need to help themselves.

"Why would I have to bother when I have somebody who is going to bring me everything that I need every day?" Turner said. "That's what we don't want."

As a first step, Turner is trying to organize all groups wishing to help, so that there isn't too much overlap in assistance.

Despite the effort, Turner says tensions will likely remain high because there are many opposing views. Sergeant Hipple says the most important thing is that there is now a group of people willing to come together.

"I find it fairly close to like most police runs I take," Hipple said. "Somewhere in the middle is the truth. So let's find the middle. You might not be happy, they might not be happy, I may not be happy, but if we solve the problem with Davidson Street then let's move to the next one."

Many in attendance agree that a long term solution must contain an alternative shelter for those currently on the street, but those ideas also vary greatly. Some are proposing a non-religious shelter, others are calling for the creation of a tent city for those who wish to stay outside.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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