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Harrisburg orders people out of Mulberry Street encampment

The city's decision comes after the public works department found dozens of rats in the area. It also says there's been a spike in violent crime.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Emotions ran high on Thursday, as the City of Harrisburg announced it is ordering all people living in the homeless encampment under the Mulberry Street Bridge to leave. 

“This is all they have and all they have is being taken away from them," said Rebecca Grady, a resident who used to live in the encampment herself. 

“Nobody wants to do this, but it has to be done for the safety of everyone involved," said Matthew Maisel, director of communications for the City of Harrisburg.

The more than 50 people living in the encampment, and all their belongings, must be gone by Thursday, Jan. 19.

The city's decision comes after dozens of large rats were found in the area. 

“Some of our workers were nearly bit, and if our workers are almost getting bit, our immediate thoughts went to the well-being of those who live there," said Maisel.

The city’s public works team found the rats about two weeks ago. 

When it became a safety hazard for the workers, they had to stop picking up the trash. 

The city put out two dumpsters for the people living there to dispose of their trash in, but they are not being used.

Authorities say there’s also been a large spike in violent crime.

“Drug usage and overdoses, sex workers, rapes, stabbings and shootings," explained Maisel.

The city is pointing folks to a few winter overnight shelters.

This includes:

  • Downtown Daily Bread, 234 South Street
  • Christian Churches Utd., 1805 N. 12th Street
  • Grace Utd. Methodist (women/non-binary), 216 State Street
  • Families with Children - Call HELP Ministries (717) 236-2851 or 1-888-596-4447

Advocates say the shelters don't solve the issue.

“There are people who are not good candidates for the shelters, and I feel like it’s just going to move people to other locations within the city," said a pastor who works with the people living under the Mulberry Street Bridge. He did not want to be named.

“There are rats, some tents are worse than others, they’re worse in other places but I think if they gave them a chance to clean it up and get it right, a lot of it would stop," said Grady.

The city says it will do a full clean-up of the area after all the people leave, and no one will be allowed back after.

“It is a very dangerous and hazardous situation that must be taken care of because it’s only going to get worse," said Dave West, the city's public works director.

The mayor’s office says it’s also working on more long-term solutions to help these folks find more permanent housing.

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