City plans to clear riverfront homeless encampment

·3 min read

Oct. 23—The homeless encampment along the Ohio River west of English Park has been a concern for officials who work with the homeless for at least two years.

Harry Pedigo, director of St. Benedict's Homeless Shelter, said shelter officials have been to the camps numerous times, working to convince people living there to take help.

"We had one come out yesterday. He's staying at the shelter," Pedigo said Friday, after he and other shelter officials had made another visit to the encampment.

But getting people living in the camp to accept help has been difficult.

"For the last two years, we have been steadily on it, but you can only do so much," Pedigo said. "Eventually, they say, 'stop coming down here' and 'leave me alone.' "

On Monday, work crews will begin clearing out trash and debris along the portion of the bank where the encampment sits. The camp will be removed as part of the cleaning process.

The encampment is on land owned by the Army Reserve and Specialty Food Group.

The camp is obscured by a heavily wooded area just off the bank of the Ohio River.

Paths, however, are there that lead to an open area where tents and makeshift wooden shelters enclosed by tarps have been constructed.

Clothing, old bicycles, shopping carts and trash are piled by trees and scattered across the ground. Some trash is piled into a burn pit.

SFG will split the bill for a portion of the clean-up cost, and the Army Reserve has given permission for the work to take place on its property, City Manager Nate Pagan said.

The work is a continuation of cleaning along the riverbank that began last year, when crews removed trash and debris between the Owensboro Convention Center and English Park, Pagan said.

"What we are doing is more of a maintenance effort," Pagan said Friday.

Pedigo said the encampment is a hazard and unsanitary to the people who live there.

"If you walk back there, it's a health concern," Pedigo said. "...There are syringes laying all over."

Mayor Tom Watson said the city is working with St. Benedict's and others to find placement for the residents in the camp.

"We are going to do something. We are going to give people plenty of time to make arrangements," Watson said. "We are going to place everyone that is down here."

City officials and St. Benedict's staff members have been visiting the camp to tell residents the encampment is going to be cleared out, Pagan said.

"Because we know community members live in that area, we want to make sure residents are notified," Pagan said. "We are working with Harry to make sure those folks are relocated and have a place to go."

On Friday, there were between six and eight people — men and women — living at the encampment. The number fluctuates, Pedigo said.

Pedigo said St. Benedict's has eased its rules so people living in the encampment can immediately get a bed. Other programs, such as "rapid rehousing" are available for the homeless.

But convincing people living at the encampment to take assistance has not been easy, he said.

"A lot of them won't even tell you what their names are," Pedigo said.

Some don't see any health concerns in living at the encampment.

"They want to be left alone," Pedigo said. "...If they don't take the help, there's nothing we can do."

But Pedigo said he and shelter officials have continued to try to reach people at the camp.

Pedigo recalled talking to man living on the riverbank.

"(I said,) 'come on, man, you're worth more than this,' " Pedigo said.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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