Occupy Louisville Pushes Discussion on Homelessness

by Gabe Bullard on December 21, 2011

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Occupy Louisville is in the middle of the movement’s first high-profile feud with Metro Government. And while the protest is focused on corporate greed, another issue has come up.

The city has told occupiers they will not be able to erect tents at their protest in Founder’s Square in the new year. The tents were only allowed this year because of a special exemption. But city officials say the exemption must end. And the camp, which houses about 20 overnight, has drawn a number of homeless residents.

“These people have no where else to go, because the state of homeless shelters within Louisville is so terrible that they would rather camp out in a park and protest where they feel safe, where there is a community, where there is a sustainable living space,” says organizer Pam Newman, adding that any homeless people staying in the park are demonstrators, too, and they would rather protest than go to a shelter.

The Department of Codes and Regulations has been part of the talks with Occupy Louisville. The agency also oversees homeless shelter regulations. Newman says department officials are now investigating why homeless residents would rather stay in a makeshift encampment than established shelters shelters.

“At Occupy Louisville, they have the opportunity to be able to use their voices and speak up,” says Newman. “Before these tents were in the park, city government was not even concerned with the issue of homelessness and what was going on in the shelters.

The mayor’s office says occupiers will still be allowed to sleep in the park next year, but come January 2nd, either the protesters or the police must take the tents down. Only one large tent may remain on a cement portion of the park.

“I don’t think that’s the solution,” says Newman. “There’s very little compromise here. And the reason I say there’s very little compromise on the part of the city, is, from my perspective, there is no reason for us not to be able to have tents anymore.”

Newman says safety isn’t a concern at Occupy Louisville. There have been no arrests or citations at the encampment. She further rejects the argument that other people might want to use the park at 5th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. No reservations have been made for the space in two years.

Newman admits that she doesn’t sleep in the park every night, but she says many who do will not comply with the city’s order to take down the tents.

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