Activists, City Council members blast city for clearing Loomis St. encampment 

click to enlarge The Loomis Street homeless encampment was fully cleared on Tuesday.


The Loomis Street homeless encampment was fully cleared on Tuesday.

A group of advocates have condemned the city’s clearing of a homeless encampment on Loomis Street.

Several advocacy groups as well as City Council Vice President Mary Lupien and Councilmember Stanley Martin signed on to a letter calling for Mayor Malik Evans and City Council President Miguel Meléndez “to stop the continued attacks on our unhoused population and work with the community to find sustainable solutions that don’t continue the cycle of harm.”

“Forced sweeps of encampments threaten their survival and put people at unnecessary risk, without reducing homelessness or addressing the problems that cause it,” read a later part of the letter..
click to enlarge Homeless advocate Donald Adams. - PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • Homeless advocate Donald Adams.

The city started the sweep on Monday. Contractors began work on a fence surrounding the city-owned lot on Loomis Street where the encampment stood. Loomis is a one-way street near the intersection of Clifford and Joseph avenues. At the same time, City Hall’s top attorney, Corporation Counsel Linda Kingsley, issued a cease and desist letter to the New York Recovery Alliance and Recovery All Ways, two organizations that have been providing outreach services to the Loomis Street encampment’s residents.

Those two organizations previously filed a federal lawsuit seeking to keep the camp from being cleared. That case is pending.

On Tuesday, the Rochester Police Department distributed letters to camp residents, warning they would be arrested if they stayed. The last of the camp residents were relocated by volunteers that day. Some were forwarded to shelters and treatment, while about five were relocated to Peace Village, a city-sanctioned encampment on Industrial Street.

“Corralling people into the carceral system or driving them further into the shadows where dehumanization, disease, and death await, is not acceptable and not negotiable,” said Gary Harding, a boardmember of Recovery All Ways who has long done outreach at Loomis Street. “We need to do better, we have to do better.”
click to enlarge Gary Harding, a volunteer at Loomis Street, sees the encampment as a community. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Gary Harding, a volunteer at Loomis Street, sees the encampment as a community.

About a dozen residents lived at the Loomis Street encampment and advocates have said almost all of them were active heroin users.

The grounds of the encampment were typically littered with used needles and the conditions prompted regular complaints from neighbors.

Many social work organizations stopped going to the site because they felt it placed their workers in danger.

Over the summer, a camp resident was stabbed in his tent. Last weekend, a person fatally overdosed on the street, though it’s unclear whether the deceased was a camp resident.

In September, CITY reported on the plans to raze the camp. At the same time, the city was readying to steer a quarter-million dollars to Person-Centered Housing Options (PCHO) to conduct outreach work at Peace Village.

Nick Coulter, co-founder of PCHO, said he wouldn’t consider any of the shelters in town low-barrier. He added that the city needs to place more resources into low-barrier shelters and safe injection sites.

“That continuum of services is necessary for people to be successful,” Coulter said.

On Tuesday, federal Judge Frank Geraci denied a temporary restraining order that New York Recovery Alliance and Recovery All Ways sought as part of their federal lawsuit. The order would have prevented the camp from being cleared but Geraci argued that the issue was moot because the camp had already been cleared.He also argued the camp was doing more harm than good.

“Especially considering that the encampment is the city’s property, Plaintiffs have no legal right to remain there, and that the encampment adversely affects the 12 surrounding neighbors, the court concludes that the balance of hardships tip decidedly against Plaintiffs,” Geraci said, in his decision.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or [email protected].
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