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High Street sees an uptick in homeless population around campus

North High Street 2006. Credit: Lantern file photo

North High Street 2006.
Credit: Lantern file photo

Every day on his way to class, Alex Castrey walks by rows of Greek houses, stores on High Street and homeless people.

But lately, he’s noticed something different on his route.

“I think there’s been an increase, definitely,” Castrey, a second-year in finance, said of the homeless people he passes each day.

Castrey isn’t the only one to take notice of this rise in the off-campus homeless population. It’s a difference officers on the Columbus Division of Police force have reported to their commander, too.

Columbus Police Commander Christopher Bowling said that since the spring, many of his officers have told him about more and more homeless individuals establishing roots in the off-campus area, sticking mainly to the east side of High Street between 12th and 15th avenues. He said the homeless population has also increased in the Short North recently.

“As the year has progressed, we’ve seen an increase probably since spring, and it’s been incremental to the point where it’s noticeable,” Bowling said.

He said homeless individuals have progressively migrated to the Short North because many people in the area have money.

So why have many homeless individuals rooted themselves near a college campus as well, when college students are known to lack cash?

It all comes down to foot traffic, Bowling said.

“Although college kids don’t translate to money, there’s a lot of traffic, a lot of chances to sit there with a cup out asking for spare change,” he said.

Even so, Bowling said Columbus Police hasn’t quantified the number of homeless individuals in the off-campus area despite this noticeable increase.

“Noticeable could be eight individuals instead of four. We don’t go around counting homeless people — it’s not a crime,” Bowling said.

Unless those individuals are aggressively panhandling passersby for money or too close in proximity to places like ATMs, they’re not doing anything wrong, according to the law.

There were 1,488 homeless people living in Franklin County in 2013, according to the 2013 Homelessness Report by the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. That number was 3.8 percent higher than the 1,434 reported in 2012.

From the experience of Sue Villilo — executive director of Faith Mission, which offers services to homeless people throughout Columbus — the homeless aren’t committing more felonious crimes than people who have homes.

“People that are experiencing homelessness do not commit any more crimes than the general public, except in the nuisance crime categories — loitering and public urination, maybe,” Villilo said.

Earlier this year, a homeless man was arrested and charged with three counts of rape and one count of kidnapping for reportedly raping a 21-year-old woman inside an off-campus residential garage. The case of the suspect, Randy Graham, Jr., was still active as of Wednesday afternoon, according to a search on the Franklin County Clerk of Courts website.

Despite that incident, Bowling said crime among homeless people varies on an individual basis and agreed with Villilo that many of the homeless population’s criminal records are comprised of misdemeanors.

So the problem, Bowling said, arises from the public’s perception of those people experiencing homelessness.

“The idea that people are out there asking for money creates the perception that something’s wrong — (it) creates a perception issue,” Bowling said.

Because of that perception, Bowling said CPD officers are now responding to an increased number of calls in the area.

“The problem for us is that our runs start to pick up because they want certain people gone — they don’t want them there,” Bowling said. “We get the call that somebody is begging at 11th and High — go make them quit. Well, no, it doesn’t work that way. They’re allowed to be out there as long as they’re not breaking the law.”

But for some students like Castrey, the increased presence of homeless individuals along High Street makes them feel uncomfortable.

“They normally ask for change … I say I don’t have any,” Castrey said, adding that he sometimes gets upset because multiple homeless people will ask him for money as he walks down High Street.

Still, Villilo said she thinks most people, students included, want to be helpful when they’re asked if they can “spare some money for lunch or a dollar to ride the bus.”

“It’s obviously a personal preference if you want to provide money or not,” Bowling said. “Once you get past that, we advocate giving money to the Columbus (Community) Shelter Board or to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.”

For those people who don’t want to give money, Villilo suggests printing off a Columbus Coalition for the Homeless streetcard, which lists various Columbus locations that offer walk-in services for homeless individuals.

Above all, Villilo advocates showing kindness to people who are experiencing homelessness.

“I think we’re vastly underestimating the number of people experiencing homelessness in Columbus and Franklin County,” Villilo said. “I think it’s always nice if you can be kind.”

9 comments

  1. I was sitting outside Panera’s one day, smoking a cigarette when a homeless man asked me for one. When I explained to him that I don’t give them out (if I gave everyone one that asked me that day, I would have gone through almost half a pack), but when I told him no, he called me a bitch and tried to grab my pack and run away. Luckily, I was holding on to them, so he didn’t get them. They are not all nice. They call you names if you don’t give them what they want. It drives me nuts. I donate to the homeless shelters and other organizations. I don’t feel I need to give them money on the street. A lot of them ask for money to ride the bus, say they just have to go somewhere, but don’t have enough money this one time, and then you see them the next day telling the same story. Or they walk down the street smoking and carrying a cup of expensive coffee from Panera’s or wherever, but they need money. I don’t think so. I know the organzations I donate to take care of those who DO need the help, not the people I see EVERY DAY on High Street.

  2. People make the mistake of seeking the Higher Power in the supernatural, the miraculous: God – Who can be discerned in daily life – the warmth of the sun, the color of a tulip, the smile of a child, being in the right place at the right time, finding that special someone. Stranded and hungry, perhaps homeless, a person standing with a sign at the exit, who receives money from you: a miracle in that’s person’s day.

    http://napoleonlive.info/what-i-think/help-the-homeless/

  3. If people would stop giving them money (or anything else) they wouldn’t hang around and harass people. One of the main reasons I moved away from the campus area is to get away from these fuking leaches.

  4. What a great article! Very well written!

  5. I saw a homeless person at a grocery store in Los Angeles yesterday. I told him how cool it was to meet him in person, but I didn’t want to be a douche and bother him and ask him for photos or anything.

    He said, “Oh, like you’re doing now?”

    I was taken aback, and all I could say was “Huh?” but he kept cutting me off and going “huh? huh? huh?” and closing his hand shut in front of my face. I walked away and continued with my shopping, and I heard him chuckle as I walked off. When I came to pay for my stuff up front I saw him trying to walk out the doors with like fifteen Milky Ways in his hands without paying.

    The girl at the counter was very nice about it and professional, and was like “Sir, you need to pay for those first.” At first he kept pretending to be tired and not hear her, but eventually turned back around and brought them to the counter.

    When she took one of the bars and started scanning it multiple times, he stopped her and told her to scan them each individually “to prevent any electrical infetterence,” and then turned around and winked at me. I don’t even think that’s a word. After she scanned each bar and put them in a bag and started to say the price, he kept interrupting her by yawning really loudly.

  6. Clayton Eberly is the future of American Literature. This piece is ground breaking on so many levels. From his vivid descriptions to relatable metaphors, this piece screams NY Times Best Seller. I could read this over and over again. I may even read it tomorrow morning when I am eating my apple crumb cake with a piping hot cup of joe! Kudos to you Mr. Eberly, I look forward to DEVOURING your work in the future.

  7. The other day when I was walking down high street I saw a homeless person! He looked sad 🙁

  8. If OSU cared about this issue — and they should, obviously — they’d start a campaign discouraging students from donating cash directly to the homeless. They should encourage kids to donate only to shelters — and the school could say this enables them to get tax deductions and to avoid suspicion of dodging the gift tax, or some other bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.

    A lot of students think they are pleasing their thought-masters in the education system by giving to “the poor”, but if the school told them it was actually bad for the homeless, they’d be happy to stop, or to give another way, I would think.

    But the school is too short-sighted to care. Do you know what a turn-off it is to bring your 16 or 17 year old to tour OSU and to be accosted by these people?

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