POLITICS

Cleveland Police Watch For Bad Guys Hiding Among City's Homeless

"Is there anyone from out of town staying down here?"

CLEVELAND ― Police here are taking many precautions to prevent violence, even trekking down an abandoned road in the Flats neighborhood and asking the homeless people camped there if they’ve seen any bad guys.

A 52-year-old man named Joe, who lives under some tarps stretched between tree branches, said a couple of officers paid him a visit late last week.

“The police came down here and asked, ‘Is there anyone from out of town staying down here?’” he said. He hadn’t seen any outsiders, he told them.

In advance of the Republican National Convention this week, police met with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless for advice on dealing with the city’s destitute residents. The coalition also distributed flyers to homeless people that warned of strangers.

“There may be visitors from out of town trying to blend into the homeless community who may be dangerous agitators,” the flyer said

So far, agitators haven’t caused much trouble. As of Wednesday morning, police said there’d only been five arrests, despite demonstrations involving hundreds of activists.

The coalition encouraged some unsheltered people to move away from the area around the convention, since police have disallowed things like tents and sleeping bags. 

West of the Quicken Loans Arena where Donald Trump officially clinched the Republican nomination for president on Tuesday, an overnight shelter that is typically only open in winter has been providing beds for 50 to 60 people displaced by the convention each night. That’s according to Megan Bonem, director of the Metanoia Project, a homeless services nonprofit that runs the shelter. 

Bonem said she wasn’t aware of anyone from out of town trying to infiltrate the shelter, but Jack, a 49-year-old man who lives in one of several camps along the abandoned and crumbling Riverbed Road, said he’s shooed away protesters six times since last week.

“No offense, but you can’t stay down here,” Jack said he told the protesters, who he said were younger and had a scruffy appearance. “You’re here to protest, but we live here.” 

The protesters weren’t Jack’s only visitors. He said law enforcement officers have been hanging out nearby in their cars under the Detroit-Superior Bridge. Cleveland police said they’d done a search of the area; the Secret Service is overseeing security for the convention, so some of the officers Jack saw might have been federal agents rather than local ones. They haven’t bothered him, so he doesn’t mind.  

Brian Davis, director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, thinks the police activity is a little weird. 

“They tried to move them and it did not work so now... they are just trying to draft them into the ‘See something say something,’” Davis said in an email. “Now, why homeless people are not more upset, I do not understand this. If it were me, I would have been so freaked out that I would have gone to Metanoia as soon as I saw police snooping around.”

People have been living along the abandoned road for years.

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