On June 21, the city of Columbus, Ohio, and the Columbus Police Department evicted and destroyed the houseless camp located at the abandoned grounds of Heer Park on the city’s far south side. The camp sweep follows a long sequence of threats, harassment, arrests and terror inflicted upon the houseless by the CPD and the inaction of the city and their aligned social workers. The Heer Park camp — which has existed for 10 years — was occupied by some 25 people who had been discarded by the capitalist system and left to survive on their own.
Community group Heer to Serve and the Party for Socialism and Liberation Columbus stepped up to fill the critical gap left by the state by providing much needed items for survival like tents, food and hygiene products, and by providing harm reduction and fighting for housing rights. On June 21, the activists stood alongside the houseless community to demand that housing be a human right and for the city of Columbus to stop the sweeps.
As people grabbed what they could, the police moved in to section off the areas of the woods where the people had camped. With over 20 squad cars and even more officers, an excavator and bulldozer crushed the remains of people’s tents and belongings, all while threatening anyone in the vicinity with arrest. While claiming to spray for honeysuckle, the city sprayed dangerous pesticides on the remains of the camps to prevent people from coming back.
Flanked by city-aligned social workers and city officials, the police blamed the people of the camp for their conditions. Sergeant Ed Daniher claimed that the people of Heer Park didn’t really want help. Facing pushback from the activists, a social worker from Maryhaven told them, “If you’re so passionate, put them in your backyards.” This sentiment was echoed verbatim by multiple police officers. Social workers from the Make-A-Day foundation similarly derided activists and even made misogynistic comments toward a local female documentarian.
City officials — from the public relations office to police lawyers to Emerald Hernandez-Parra of the Columbus Department of Development — repeated time and time again that they had done all they could do, yet they provided no housing options for those they evicted that day. Hernandez-Parra, who signed the eviction papers, claimed that they couldn’t “drop anybody off at a house now.” Matthew Meyer of PSL Columbus told Liberation News that the city demonstrated capitalism’s focus on property over human lives. “We’re involved in the struggle for housing because under capitalism everything is commodified, including shelter,” Meyer said.
This was all too apparent when CPD officers claimed to represent Casto — a commercial real estate agency — and they threatened arrest to anyone on “private property.” Officers mocked activists for crying at the camp sweeps, quoted scripture and said activists should house those at Heer Park themselves. One officer set a five-minute timer on her phone, and said they would arrest the activists if they remained any longer. With 30 seconds left, she told the activists to “run.”
Hannah McCoy, an activist from Heer to Serve, told Liberation News that it was “sickening” to witness this situation. “This was my first time being present during an actual sweep, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” McCoy said. ”Seeing that amount of police presence, the negative comments and attitudes from ‘outreach’ workers and even the contractors not caring one bit that people’s homes were being destroyed was heartbreaking.”
Despite all of the state’s efforts, Heer to Serve and PSL Columbus will continue serving the people while building a movement that fights for the houseless community. “As housing continues to be gentrified, if you can’t keep up with rising rents, you have no alternatives,” Meyer told Liberation News. ”Housing is a human right that should be available to everyone.”