Two recent public meetings in Bloomington have addressed business owners’ concerns of crime and loitering along Kirkwood Avenue. Those concerns have also sparked a conversation about combatting homelessness in the city.
Susan Bright, co-owner of Nick’s English Hut, wrote an open letter to the city’s business owners, inviting them to gather and address what she has observed as an influx of crime over the past several years. She says she, her staff and her customers have observed more instances of aggressive panhandling, drug dealing and altercations such as mugging.
She has adopted the role of facilitator to keep the discussion going in order to inspire changes.
“I think it’s going to reduce the criminal activity; I think it’s going to reduce the homelessness,” Bright says. “We’re not going to cure this 100 percent, we just have to keep that in mind. And having these reductions are an incentive for us all to keep on this path.”
The week after Bright’s meeting, City Council member Steve Volan hosted a public meeting at Bloomington City Hall. Some people thought Bright’s letter unfairly targeted the city’s homeless population.
Byron Bangert, a member of the Bloomington Human Rights Commission, attended Volan’s meeting.
“We as a human rights commission are particularly concerned that it not be precisely because somebody is homeless that they’re stereotyped and that their behavior is assumed therefore to be illegal or objectionable in some way,” Bangert says.
Bright says that was not her intention and she hoped to shed light on the overall crime problem.
Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff says different people commit different crimes at different times of the day, and homeless people do not engage in all the illegal activities.
Panhandling is legal in the state, with the exception of aggressive panhandling, panhandling after dark and restrictions on the proximity to outdoor dining areas.
Last year, the Bloomington Police Department introduced downtown resource officers to work with local social service agencies to address the issue of homelessness and offer support services.
“Homeless people are victims of crime and they don’t feel like they can report them,” Diekhoff says. “We see that a lot and we’ve tried to build more trusting relationships so that they feel more comfortable reporting crimes.”
Diekhoff says the police department is aware of recent concerns.
“We have daily foot patrols on Kirkwood and the downtown area,” Diekhoff says. “With the recent increase in complaints down there, we focused the efforts of that foot patrol just in the eastern part of the Kirkwood area.”
Bright says she has already noticed fewer crimes in the two weeks since the initial meeting.