August 29, 2011

‘Jungle’ Residents Protest Amid Rumors of Eviction

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Residents of the Jungle I and the Jungle II  — a set of encampments occupied by many of Ithaca’s homeless residents — protested outside City Hall Friday amid rumors that eviction notices would be issued by the Mayor’s office in the coming weeks.Rumors of an eviction began swirling last week after a draft eviction proposal was circulated to various city officials and several human service agencies. City of Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson, however, said that she had been out of town when the proposal was divulged and is open to finding alternative ways to reduce the number of residents living in the Jungle.According to Peterson, her office has renewed its interest in Jungle I and II — two  wooded areas to the west of Route 13 near Wegmans —­ in the past few months after receiving “a high number of complaints from business and property owners surrounding the sites, as well as an increase in the number of police and fire calls.”Additionally, several city officials and representatives from various human service agencies noted that there had been an increase in deaths of Jungle residents in the last year, including a stabbing, a suicide and an accidental drowning.Following this recent period of unrest and more than two years of stagnated progress in attempts to create a solution, Peterson has agreed to sit down with human service agencies on Sept. 7 to revive discussions about regulating Jungle I and Jungle II. “It seems to me that human services agencies have not been united on an approach. We’ve been sitting down trying to figure out what to do and no one has come up with anything,” Peterson said. “Can’t this community, who’s supposed to be creative and thoughtful, come up with some sort of solution?”Yet some protesters, such as A.J. Lurcock, said that the whispers of an eviction speak more to the disconnect between city officials, human service agencies and the city’s homeless population than to the necessity of government interference in the Jungle. Lurcock said that based on one particular experience with a city official at the protest, city officials think the homeless are “all liars, thieves and drunks.”“I don’t drink or do drugs, but as soon as they see you in this system, you’re a low life, you’re at the bottom and that’s not how they should be thinking about this,” he said. Other Jungle residents, and former residents, rejected the possibility of completely evicting the homeless from the land.“I think if they evict the people that are there now, people are going to move back in anyway.” said Dan Porter, who lived in the Jungle for six months. “It’s a residual thing; More people come in than leave.” Deborah Dietrich, executive director of Tompkins County Offender Aid and Restoration, said she hopes city officials and human service agencies can reach some sort of “happy medium” for improving the health and safety of Jungle residents.According to Dietrich, one of these solutions may be the addition of a wet shelter — a shelter that permits residents to consume alcohol  — to the city’s social services system. “While some people live in the Jungle voluntarily, many end up there because they do not want to comply with the no drinking rule at the Red Cross,” Dietrich said. “What we need is a place where people can come out of the cold. They can be drunk and all they need is a place to pass out — as long as they are not violent with one another.”In order to receive a spot in a Tompkins County Red Cross facility, residents have to comply with certain regulations set forth by the Department of Social Services.“They must become sober, they have to look for a job and they have to eventually become self-sustainable,” said Kate Minnix, director of press relations for the Tompkins County Red Cross. Billy Klemon, who has been living in Jungle I for the past 10 years, said he had been kicked out of the Tompkins County Red Cross for drinking and smoking in his room.“I just went back to the Jungle,” he said.Many homeless individuals and representatives from several human service agencies — who requested to remain anonymous — also decried the quality of other affordable housing alternatives in Ithaca.“I currently live in a no fee apartment provided to me by social services,” Lurcock said. “Paint is peeling off the walls, floors are buckling, police are at my house three or four times a day because the upstairs people are crack dealers. I’d be better off in the Jungle.”As long as Jungle residents are unwilling to comply with Red Cross standards and more adequate housing options remain largely unavailable, Dietrich said, the Jungle eviction is ill-considered for both the residents and the city.“I don’t think that the human impact has been considered and definitely not the fiscal aspect as far as how much it’s going to cost,” Dietrich said. “If you evict these people and then arrest them for loitering or public intoxication, it’s going to cost the city upwards of 90 dollars a day to keep them in jail — and you could provide pretty nice housing for less than that.” Peterson also recognized the financial implications of addressing the problem at this time.“Right now we’re working on the budgets, and we certainly take into account where the need is greatest,” Peterson said. “It’s part of the government’s role to really help serve the people most in need, and I definitely believe there could be better help for the persons living in the Jungle than what is happening.”

Original Author: Liz Camuti