Fence blocking sight of downtown homeless camp not related to NCAA Tournament

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INDIANAPOLIS — A downtown homeless camp near West and Maryland Streets now has a fence blocking its view. There had been speculation that it may be to prevent NCAA Tournament fans from seeing Indy’s homeless population, but that is turning out not to be the case.

The fence was put in place by the Indiana Convention Center (ICC) in cooperation with Lucas Oil Stadium. ICC spokesperson Lisa Vielee says it is part of spring maintenance and was not done in response to the tournament.

People living there are happy to see it up. They say it gives them privacy to live their lives. As one person living at the camp questioned to CBS4, “When you go home, do you have a fence around your house? Do you like how it keeps you protected? Same idea.”

“It wasn’t put up to hide nobody or nothing like that, it was put up because people came up bothering us,” said camp resident Lito Corazon. “‘If we put up a “bat signal” or ask for help I understand, but we aren’t asking for help. We are fine. We are self sustaining. We are good.”

Corazon adds that recent publicity surrounding the fence has prompted people to come by to drop off donations, however, more often than not they are finding it to be an abundance of items that aren’t useful. It can lead to clutter around the camp that makes it look worse, and draw negative attention to them. ICC has put a dumpster nearby to help them clean up their area, but now the problem falls on the people staying there.

“They will be asleep up there. [Some of those people staying there are] regular people with jobs, and so people come donate stuff, and overnight you will wake up, and there is food and all types of stuff sitting there. Thanks for 23 bologna sandwiches and 600 batteries, but that won’t help right now,” explained Corazon.

“It looks like the people that are here, or any homeless people, or anybody that is going through issues without a place to live, it will look like they are causing the issues for the environment, but people are donating and bringing stuff that they do not want. They will pick through it, grab what they need, and they will leave it there.”

While Corazon is appreciative, he and his campmates just want to be left alone.

Moving forward, ICC says there are no plans to remove the fence once the college basketball games are over. It would only be moved for landscaping of the median where the fence sits.

“First of all, I have never known our community to be one to be ashamed by our homeless, embarrassed by our homeless, or try to hide our homeless,” said Steve Kerr, executive director of advancement at Wheeler Mission. “My thought initially was they are trying to create some privacy for this encampment. They don’t want a lot of people gawking at them, as we wouldn’t.”

Wheeler Mission is expecting to see a greater number of guests at their homeless shelters during March. They have expanded their day room and put televisions inside to allow people to watch March Madness.

“Our end goal is to get people off the streets and into stable housing. This could be one step closer where we have to reach somebody,” detailed Kerr. “We don’t want to warehouse people, we want to see everybody successful.”

The same sentiment goes for those people staying at West and Maryland. For some of these men and women, they continue to work toward financial success while at the camp, much like anyone working at home during the pandemic. Corazon is writing his own music and is in the process of trying to open a consignment shop.

“I’m really good with tech, so I think I am going to do it virtually until I can find some thrift store venues I can post it at.”

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