The city of Cleveland’s plan to enforce a 3.3-square-mile security zone around the Republican National Convention next month will unfairly target, criminalize, and displace homeless people, according to a lawsuit.
One advocate told Fusion that the rules would essentially displace the homeless residents of downtown Cleveland.
The suit focuses on allegations that the city’s limits for protesters within the zone are so stringent that they violate free speech. Protesters are expected to descend on the city from July 18 to 21 to oppose the expected nomination of Donald Trump.
But the suit also highlights the problems for more than 100 homeless people who live in the restricted area.
Within that area, known as the Event Zone, permit regulations prohibit people from carrying items such as rope, chain, sleeping bags, tents, sleeping pads, and canned goods—all daily survival items for homeless people.
“We’re worried that that will cause lots of encounters between law enforcement and homeless people and possibly arrests and possible displacement of people who sleep outside,” said Brian Davis, executive director of Northeast Ohio Coalition for The Homeless, which is a plaintiff, along with the ACLU.
When I asked Davis why he believes officials have drawn up such strict rules, he said it may be because the city fears anarchists will hide among the homeless population to plan protests and do harm to Cleveland.
“In this area, you have some homeless camps, so these homeless people can’t continue to stay there. Where do they sleep?” asked Larry Bresler, executive director of Organize! Ohio, another plaintiff. “Most of them carry around all of their belongings in backpacks. It’s a way of sweeping all of the homeless people out of Cleveland.”
An official with the city of Cleveland told me the city doesn't comment on lawsuits.
David Gilbert, President & CEO of the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, says that his body held a forum with dozens of social service organizations that work with homeless communities to ensure homeless people were not forgotten in the planning. He said that the primary responsibility of ensuring that homeless residents are aware of the rules during the convention rests with the homeless service organizations. "The key is that those organizations need to be plugged in to the line of communication," Gilbert said.
Like most cities across America, Cleveland has significant issues with homelessness. The metropolitan area ranks in the top 10 nationally for poverty. In 2014, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported a 6 percent increase in poverty in the city.
Conventions of the RNC’s magnitude are prized symbols of a city’s economic progress and a boost to their images. But often the most marginalized groups in that city are either ignored or outright displaced during the showcase.
Advocates hope the suit will result in the city's honoring homeless people equally as residents who live in apartments and other homes.
“Either that or a much smaller 'Event Zone,'" David said. “It’s not necessary to cross the river in downtown Cleveland, which encompasses a lot of homeless people. A lot of the area is far away from where the RNC will be and those individuals don’t need to be impacted by this convention. They’re very far away. They’re not bothering anybody.”
Terrell Jermaine Starr is National Political Correspondent for Fusion. You can follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.