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Homeless camp sites pop up in Fort Wayne, present challenge for city police

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - Cold and snow can prove to be a nuisance for many residents, but those conditions can be dangerous for folks who might be stuck sleeping outdoors.

We did a quick tour of downtown rivers and found sleeping bags scattered along riverbanks, signs of homeless people toughing it out in the elements.

A tent set up along the banks of the Saint Marys River.

Maybe 20 feet from the edge of the Saint Marys River, late morning we came across an empty campsite for the homeless.

There was a tent set up with blankets, clothing, cans and liquor bottles laying around.

It looked like someone slept in the makeshift camp overnight.

"We've got a problem down here that needs to be mitigated," said Eddie Leffler, a retired General Motors worker who had an eye opening experience this week when he volunteered to help clear logjams and other brush from the river.

While taking part in the cleanup he saw trash and debris in several locations, signs of homeless encampments.

"It's just not healthy or sanitary and it's just sad to see what they're doing to the river. Wine bottles, syringes, needles, it's all there," Leffler said.

Sleeping bags pile up under the Ewing Street Bridge downtown.

There are now a handful of downtown bridges that are officially off limits to sleep under.

"No Trespassing" signs are posted on the Ewing Street Bridge and others.

8 am Wednesday, police found a man in violation.

"And we gave him a warning. hey, you're not allowed to be here. If we find you again, you'll be arrested for trespassing," said Sgt. Benjamin Messick, who is in charge of downtown patrol.

The executive director of Just Neighbors Interfaith Homeless Network, an agency that helps hundreds of homeless parents and children in the city each year, says understanding why someone might be living under a bridge or in a homeless camp can be complicated.

"They are traumatized, they have had years of abuse or neglect that have led to mental health problems, substance abuse issues. We have to keep in mind the realities of what they've gone through to get to that point," said Joshua Gale with Just Neighbors.

A few dozen agencies in Fort Wayne work with people struggling with homelessness.

You can contact Just Neighbors for help at 458-9772.

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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