Bloomington Officials, Led by Mayor Kerry Thomson, Take Action to Clear Homeless Camp Amidst Safety Concerns After Recent Murders

Bloomington Mayor Thomson answers questions about a Homeless Camp Eviction near Wheeler Mission, Thursday, January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Video by The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: A makeshift shelter at a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
Homeless Camp that was cleared near Wheeler Mission, Thursday, January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Video by The Bloomingtonian)

Jeremy Hogan

Bloomington, Indiana – January 25, 2024

Bloomington officials, including Mayor Kerry Thomson and BPD Chief Mike Diekhoff, were onsite during the eviction of a sprawling homeless camp on Thursday morning in Bloomington.

At around 10:30 a.m., members of the Bloomington Police Department were present at the location, which was formerly railroad tracks leading to tents in the woods. This area has seen the murders of two unhoused Bloomington residents in the past two months.

A man was talking out loud saying he has nowhere to go.

The railroad tracks that were once there led to the now gone RCA television factory, which was closed in the 1990s after the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed by then President Bill Clinton. Soon the jobs were shipped to Mexico, and the blue-collar workers who had worked in Bloomington for decades were jobless. Later the tracks were removed, and what remains is a muddy dirt road.

Notices were posted on the 19th, giving residents 72 hours to vacate the premises or face criminal trespass charges. The camp, situated next to a facility owned by the City of Bloomington, was once used to filter toxic PCBs from the headwaters of a creek originating at the old Lemon Lane Dump—a former Superfund site. The EPA declared it clean and removed it from the list.

A road leading from Third Street directs to the old facility, with a karst formation on the right dipping into the ground. Locals claim the site was once part of a lake supplying water to steam trains but is now filled with pipes channeling water into a creek.

Inside and around the edges were several encampments, including one constructed from boards, ice and water shield roofing material, and tarps—a structure reminiscent of shanty towns from the Great Depression.

The Bloomingtonian had visited a few days earlier to document no trespassing signs and encountered an individual familiar with the area. The man cautioned against entering the camp due to its danger, and offered to accompany him back to an area where a notice of trespassing was posted.

The warning proved true on Thursday morning when a man, standing near the police tape surrounding the campsite where a recent shooting occurred, threatened violence upon seeing cameras, and told the photographer (the author of this article) he was trespassing at the camp. The police intervened, instructing the photographer to leave so he wasn’t attacked, preventing documentation of the crime scene, but assuring the photographer’s safety.

Mayor Kerry Thomson was interviewed by a local television station while members of local organizations assisting the unhoused helped those leaving the camp. Mayor Thomson, when asked about documenting the site, expressed concern about crossing the line between informing the public and engaging in poverty exploitation, denying access.

As she was speaking, two unhoused residents of the camp helped an unhoused man, who was having trouble walking, leave the camp.

During these events, representatives from local organizations aiding the unhoused assisted others leaving the camp. Members of Indiana Recovery Alliance pulled up in a van with an engine knock and were surprised at the lack of assistance from others.

Evictions of unhoused individuals are a familiar sight in Bloomington, with numerous camps cleared since 2017. Recognizable faces of weary individuals who have assisted the unhoused before were present at this camp. They have the recognizable long gaze of veterans who have seen too much. Others simply don’t show up anymore to help or have left the Bloomington area. Burnout is a major issue for aid workers. And the homelessness issue in Bloomington is relentless.

Mayor Kerry Thomson, in her less-than-a-month tenure, oversaw the clearance of two camps. She attributed the necessity of clearing this camp to safety concerns following two killings. Thomson mentioned ongoing efforts to find solutions, engaging with faith-based organizations and others, acknowledging homelessness as a national issue with no immediate solutions.

As the camp was about to be cleared, a man could be heard saying out loud that he didn’t think it was fair he’s being evicted from the camp due to the actions of others.

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Water fills a campsite before the City of Bloomington clears a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Bloomington Police Department Mike Diekhoff arrives before the City of Bloomington clears a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: A homeless camp near Wheeler Mission sits on what was once train tracks on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: A shoe is discarded at a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: A sleeping bag in the woods at a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: A copy of the local newspaper’s obituary section at a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Dogs guard a tent at a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Crime tape still surrounds an area where a man was murdered in a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: City workers assess how they will clean up a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: An unhoused man named Walter speaks with the mayor at a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Bloomington Mayor Kerry Thomson, and Police Chief Mike Diekhoff, gather at a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: A member of the Bloomington Police Department helps at a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Police stand on a dirt road before City of Bloomington clears a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Debris covers the ground at a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Water fills a campsite before the City of Bloomington clears a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Water fills a campsite before the City of Bloomington clears a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Visitor’s names are written on the outside wall of a makeshift structure in homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: A campfire for cooking sits idle and cold at a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: Police stand on a dirt road before City of Bloomington clears a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: A sweater is left on a thorny plant in a homeless camp near Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 25: A faculty to clean PCBs from ground water sits idle near a homeless camp behind Wheeler Mission on January 25, 2024 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)

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