Metro311 sparked uproar online this week when social media users highlighted a banner at the top of the city government service’s website that appeared to encourage citizens to report homeless encampments.
“New! Homeless Encampment Reporting,” read the yellow banner. “Click here to report a homeless camp.”
Clicking on the text brought website users to a separate form that allowed them to document how many individuals they observed camping, details on what was observed, “the date you observed homeless activity” as well as “a photo of the homeless activity you’d like to share.” The portal also allows users to drop a pin on a map of the location where they observed homeless activity.
On Twitter on Wednesday, District 4 Councilman Jecorey Arthur said he asked the mayor’s office to take the banner down and that they complied. He said he learned of the banner from another tweet that featured a screenshot for the banner alongside the words “Happy derby y’all!!!! This years derby season opens with homeless encampment reporting instead of thunder.”
311 says they put this up because of a surge of calls about encampments which backlogs other requests.
I asked the mayor’s office to take it down. The banner is no longer at the top of our city website.
Now everybody ask your neighbors to chill on reporting encampments. https://t.co/0xKCBheeVr
— Jecorey Arthur (@jecoreyarthur) April 20, 2022
On Thursday, the banner remained visible to multiple LEO employees using multiple devices for much of the day before disappearing in the afternoon.
Jody Duncan, a spokesperson for Metro311, pushed back against notions that the banner was removed because of its tone or perceptions that it was encouraging people to file reports on homeless people they observed. She said it instead was removed because it was no longer new. The banner, she said, was added to Metro311’s website after the Office of Resilience and Community Services began using a new program to take in reports about homeless encampments.
“When we received that new reporting from Resilience and Community Services I said: ‘Hey, wait a minute, if they can put in trash pickup was missed, a dead animal call, why can’t they do a homeless encampment?” she said. “So on our mobile app, about six months ago, I added that. And then we also added it to our website. Now, I didn’t realize that banner was still up, so I took the banner down. Because it’s no longer new, it’s been up for six months.”
According to archived versions of Metro311’s website, the banner has been in place since at least early December of last year. An additional link to the homeless encampment reporting portal prominently located immediately below Metro311’s main reporting portal has been in place since at least mid-December. Metro311’s main reporting portal allows citizens to report issues such as graffiti, noise concerns, high weeds and grass, potholes, abandoned issues and a host of other issues.
Duncan said that 311 received many calls about homeless camps and that the banner was part of an effort to make it easier for citizens who did not want to call or use social media to make a report.
“It was not saying, ‘You need to tattle or tell on someone who has a homeless encampment,’” she said.
An infographic provided to LEO by Julia Dake, a spokesperson for the Office of Resilience and Community Services, lays out what happens when a camp is reported to Metro311. First, a health and safety risk assessment is done. Then, the city says, outreach teams are notified so they can assess needs and connect residents with resources and services. If it is determined that a camp needs to be cleared, steps will be taken to discourage homeless people from re-settling in that place.
Dake said neither her office nor the Homeless Services Division were previously aware of the banner.
In an interview with LEO, Arthur said that he does not think that there should be a homeless encampment reporting portal and that getting the banner taken down is only part of the solution.
“What’s equally as important as holding the city accountable is holding your neighbor accountable,” he said. “Because even if the banner gets taken down, people can still call 311, people can still use the app to report encampments. So if you care that much about protecting the people who are unhoused, you really got to do some work on addressing our fellow neighbors who are reporting the people who are unhoused.”
Speaking to LEO on Thursday morning, Stachelle Bussey, the founder of the nonprofit The Hope Buss, which has been tapped by the city to run Louisville’s safe outdoor space for homeless people, said she did not know what the goal of the reporting portal was but figured it was a misguided attempt to help quantify the homeless population and provide aid.
“It’s not a good look, but I don’t think it’s meant to be harmful,” she said.
However, she said she did not think that average members of the public untrained in outreach, de-escalation and substance abuse should be walking up to homeless encampments and taking photos of them.
“Those kinds of things feel very, very intrusive,” she said.
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