INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (AP) - The homeless find fellowship under a bridge in downtownIndianapolis. But a large homeless camp just a mile from the city'slandmark Monument Circle is drawing complaints from nearby businessowners, who say its residents intimidate employees and mess up thearea.
More than three dozen people call the camp under a DavidsonStreet railroad bridge home each night, and city leaders sayfinding an answer won't be easy, or quick. Ideas being floated haveincluded tent cities, a practice from the Great Depression that hasmade a comeback in Washington and Oregon.
Sgt. Bob Hipple, the Indianapolis Metropolitan PoliceDepartment's liaison to the homeless, said the real solution is toget camp residents more than food and blankets.
"It's getting them to the resources they need," he said.
Outreach workers say some well-intentioned people who bring foodto the camp are thwarting efforts to get its occupants off thestreets by making street life more palatable.
But the homeless at the camp say they dislike shelter rules,including those that ban alcohol use.
"Worse than prison" is how Scott Atkins describes shelters.
By contrast, Atkins, 52, says the bridge is "a little placewhere you know everyone, and people look out for each other."
Atkins is a former purchasing agent who serves as the unofficialmayor of the camp, where sheets of plastic are strung from pillarsto create "rooms" for the bridge occupants and blankets andsleeping bags cover the sidewalks to serve as floors.
Many of those present are considered chronically homeless andmay have alcohol or
drug issues or mental illness.
Outreach worker Donnie Robinette says the number of homeless inthe city has risen since last year. Outreach workers conductedtheir annual homeless census in January but don't have results yet.Last year's total was 1,454.
"There's just no doubt about it in my mind," he said. "We'reseeing more people."
The Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homelessreported 730,000 homeless people in 2008, about the same as2007.
Executive director Neil Donovan said the number will be up thisyear.
"With the foreclosure crisis, it's clearly rising," he said.
Richard Campi, president of Friends of Historic Fountain Square,said many residents empathize with the homeless but are upset bysqualor and sometimes rude, drunken behavior of the campdwellers.
The homeless live in tents on the sidewalk and loiter in thestreet, strewing garbage over a large swath of the area.
"A lot of people are scared of what's over there," he said.
Rhonda Stafford is among them.
"I lock the doors," said Stafford, who works as a bookkeeper ata nearby business. "I never used to lock the doors."
Stafford and others want the homeless colony gone. They'vecalled the police, the mayor and Homeland Security.
Campi is intrigued by the resurgence of tent cities in westernstates. Some have populations approaching 100 people and arecity-sanctioned.
"It sounds rather extreme: tent city," said Campi, who livesnear Davidson Street, "but maybe that's something to consider herein Indianapolis.
That, or FEMA trailers. At least it might be a little betterorganized than what we've got. It could at least have somePort-o-lets."
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