We had a meeting with many outreach workers and volunteers along with some of the victims of the fires down in the Flats and the Cleveland Police Department. The new Commander of the Second District Thomas Stacho and Officer Petcak from the Downtown unit attended the meeting to hear our concerns that someone was targeting homeless people by burning down their campsites. We heard of three active sites that were destroyed and a couple of abandoned camps. This started the weekend of March 21 and continued last Friday March 28. On Friday evening between 4 pm to 5 p.m. there were a series of fires at the camps while they were away getting food. Then when the residents went inside to get out of the cold in the middle of the night the criminals came back and torched more camps.
NEOCH and other outreach teams are concerned that this is a hate crime, and will only get worse with more people living outside over the summer. The Police assured us that they would follow up and would investigate these concerns. They were going to talk to some of the business owners in the area, construction workers, and the Fire Department that responded. They were going to report back to us after interviewing some of the spectators down there and a few people identified by the victims as suspicious as well as others who go down along the river.
The stroller lady was scared and reported all her losses including the death of one of her cats. She was angry about many past beefs with many different people in the community. She gets picked on so much it is hard to get her to focus on this attack and not the previous threats against her camp. She was also frustrated that no one takes her complaints seriously for the last five years including the police. Rick has relocated and is keeping his new location quiet. He talked about the library books, clothing, sleeping bags and food that he lost. He was stoic but said he did not understand these attacks. Rick stays away from most people and does not bother anyone. He interacts with the volunteers from Labre, but otherwise stays by himself. He had no theories for who could have done this, because there was no threats or warning. Rick did say that someone had stolen from him and had messed up his camp two weeks ago, but was not sure if this was related.
The outreach teams will increase interaction with the people staying outside. We have asked the residents to set up a "neighborhood watch" type program. The police agreed to keep an eye out during their patrols. We hope that they are able to find these domestic terrorists who burnt down these campsites and intentially destroyed the tents and all their possessions of these people who largely try to avoid the spotlight.
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The Plain Dealer posted a follow up today about the attacks on homeless people. Mark Naymik gave a good overview of the situation. Word of warning do not read the comments they are hate filled and uneducated about the situation. Many of the people living down in the Flats have been cast away by most of society and have no where else. They are not able to live in the crowded shelters and have no ability to have a lease. These campsites are the last stop on the poverty train.