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Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton Updates Progress On Downtown Initiatives
Updated October 4, 2016 4:31 AM
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(BLOOMINGTON) - On August 10, 2016, Mayor John Hamilton held a press conference to announce efforts to address downtown safety, civility and justice in light of the aggressive panhandling, vagrancy, illicit drug use and housing insecurity apparent in the Downtown area.

At that time, Mayor Hamilton announced several initiatives to begin to improve downtown safety, civility and justice. Hamilton today shared activities and updates that have taken place since early August.

First, the Downtown Safety and Civility Dialogue and Deliberation Project was established through the Community and Justice Mediation Center (CJAM). This group has been gathering data, interviewing stakeholders, mapping concerns, interests and resources, and identifying systems and change points, to conclude with a final report of findings. Those findings will be presented to a soon-to-be-formed Safety, Civility and Justice Task Force, that will study those results, best practices of other communities and other relevant research, and present specific recommendations to Mayor Hamilton by April 2017.

Second, Mayor Hamilton announced he would accept the recommendation of the Bloomington Police Department (BPD) to install security cameras in four locations: Seminary Park, People's Park, the north end of the B-Line Trail and the B-Line Trail south of Kroger. The City's Information & Technology Services department has been working with the BPD and Department of Public Works to determine appropriate equipment and the necessary infrastructure to support the cameras, with installation expected by the end of the year.

As announced by Mayor Hamilton in August, Downtown Resource Officers, as well as traditional police officers, have increased patrols downtown. Chief Diekhoff commented, "An increase of officers downtown allowed us to respond to 20% more calls about nuisance crimes like public intoxication, vandalism, excessive noise and public disturbance." A greater police presence also led to five arrests last week for drug dealing in Seminary Park following a BPD investigation.

Fourth, Mayor Hamilton asked BPD Chief Michael Diekhoff to ensure all existing state statutes relating to panhandling are being enforced as guided by statute. Five incidents of aggressive panhandling were reported in July, five in August, and eleven in September. "Again, with more officers as well as the public reporting these incidents, our data reflects an increase. However, anecdotal complaints are dropping even as reporting increases. We use these interactions as teaching opportunities to inform individuals who are engaging in panhandling what is and is not allowed under statute," explained Chief Diekhoff.

Fifth, the Mayor directed The Parks Department to evaluate options to enhance experiences in the downtown parks. The Parks Department resumed its Concerts in the Park series in August and is exploring new programming in People's Park to increase foot traffic and discourage inappropriate behaviors. Bond money has been allocated to improve lighting and related infrastructure in People's, Seminary and The Waldron, Hill and Buskirk Parks.

One of the most visible changes downtown will be the fulfilment of a public information campaign to encourage residents and visitors to give charitable donations to social service agencies that provide services rather than directly to individuals engaging in panhandling. Over the next two weeks, 28 new signs will be installed in the downtown area. These signs include the message, "Please help. Don't encourage panhandling. Contribute to the solution. www.bloomington.in.gov/give." The website link includes a list of social service agencies that directly provide services, including shelter/housing and food assistance, medical services, drug addiction treatment and education/workforce assistance, to those in need. A donation to one or more of those agencies can be made quickly and easily by clicking on the "Donate to..." link for each agency.

"By giving to agencies that provide assistance, donors can be part of long-term solutions to the challenges that can lead to panhandling. Our caring and compassionate residents and visitors want to help those in need. I applaud that instinct. Many people who are panhandling suffer from deep poverty brought on by under- or unemployment, homelessness, addictions and under- or untreated mental illness. Everyone deserves the opportunity to live in appropriate housing and access nutritious food, healthcare, or treatment. By donating to service providers instead of an individual, your contribution has a better chance of truly helping," said Mayor Hamilton.

Reverend Forrest Gilmore, the Executive Director of Shalom Community Center, which provides services for many in the community experiencing poverty, commented on the advantages of giving to organizations rather than directly to individuals, "By donating to social service agencies directly, you can be sure that your kindness goes to the things that are most important: food, shelter, housing, employment, health care, and the supports people need to get back on their feet."

Talisha Coppock, Executive Director of Downtown Bloomington Inc. is familiar with the issues related to panhandling and homelessness both in the community and for downtown businesses. She spoke in favor of the new signs and said, "The signs are needed as gentle reminders for our residents, visitors and young students that Bloomington has many ways to support people in need."

"We want everyone to feel safe and welcome in our city, including our downtown public spaces. Panhandling is not illegal. Experiencing homelessness is not illegal. Our parks and streets belong to all and are open to all. Safety, civility and justice are rights for every person in Bloomington. We hope these efforts and those going forward will make our downtown safer and more enjoyable for everyone who chooses to spend time there," concluded Hamilton.



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