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Harrisburg officials outline assistance plans for homeless encampment residents told to move

Officials said the action was necessary due to a “crisis” of rising crime in the block-long group of tents.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — After Harrisburg City officials received pushback from some members of the community over their plan to clear the Mulberry Street bridge homeless encampment, they held a press briefing to clarify their plans to help the encampment occupants who will need to move.

People living in the encampment have been offered resources to find temporary shelter, stable housing and healthcare. 

For those who refuse those resources, officials are also planning a relocation area, though the location won’t be disclosed publicly before the move.

“We care about our clients, our homeless family, as I would any of my friends,” said Corrie Lingenfelter of the Downtown Daily Bread, which assists homeless individuals in Harrisburg with a day shelter, soup kitchen and other assistance programs. “If I know that there's criminal activity around them we're going to take the same kind of action that we are when we're talking about our homeless individuals.”

People living in the encampment were previously told to leave by Thursday, Jan. 19. The area is to then be cleared and sanitized.

Officials said the action was necessary due to a “crisis” of rising crime in the block-long group of tents.

“This was not something that we wanted to do, but we had to because it was a critical moment,” said Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams.

Since Nov. 1, the area has gotten 16 separate emergency calls for multiple drug overdoses, assaults, prostitution and a homicide. 

Most of those crimes were not committed by occupants, but rather by other people coming into the encampment, according to Harrisburg Bureau of Police Chief Thomas Carter.

In addition, dozens of large, aggressive rats have prevented sanitation workers from clearing trash.

Members of the Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness said in the longer term, they were working to better coordinate volunteers.

“Some of the things that have been really difficult to manage is that we have food rotting on the streets because many groups want to feed people. I think we need that. We just need it coordinated,” said Randie Yeager of Dauphin County Human Services.

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