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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

No Arrests or Citations, Judge Tells Pottstown

In the middle of a county-declared “Code Blue,” a federal judge told Pottstown Borough this week that police may not arrest or issue a citation to anyone who remains in a tent encampment near College Drive beyond the municipal-imposed deadline of this Friday, Dec. 1.

At least for now.

The order from Judge Mia R. Perez states, in part: “Defendant, Borough of Pottstown, may take steps to close the homeless encampment or require the unhoused residents to relocate from Borough of Pottstown-owned land next to the Schuylkill River Trail along College Drive…(sic) However, Defendant may not do so through the imposition of criminal penalties.”

It is not clear what actions on the part of police or borough officials are permissible under this order.

In a pair of posts on Facebook, the director of one of the plaintiffs – Chris Brickhouse of Better Days Ahead – called the ruling “Absolutely Huge News.”

Brickhouse stated, “It’s pretty silly that a court case was needed for this, and yet it was. We have been stating all along that the criminalization of homelessness in towns across America is one of the root problems, now the root solution is housing first.”

He continued, “Again, we didn’t file this (lawsuit) to keep people living outside, that was going to happen regardless of the sweep and the sweep would only have moved people from one spot to another and not into housing or shelters, we filed it to keep people from being arrested, fined, and charged for existing.”

Housing first and strong social supports will be one of the focal points of Wednesday’s Code Blue Forum, sponsored by the Montco 30% Project Project. It will be held at 7 p.m. inside the Tri-County Active Adult Center, 288 Moser Road, Pottstown.

In related news:

  • The Montgomery County Homelessness Task Force held its final meeting on Nov. 17. A full report is expected before the end of the year, which is expected to include municipal commitments for encouraging the development of more affordable housing (not “Section 8”/ Housing Choice Vouchers), and planning for expanded shelter capacity. Evictions have been rising in Pennsylvania and across the county since the end of pandemic-era protections. In the past month, about 7 in 100 renters have faced eviction, according to the Eviction Lab, which includes 10,256 eviction filings in Pennsylvania alone.

  • A preliminary hearing is scheduled Thursday for 15-year-old Thomas J. Niarhos in front of Judge Scott Palladino. Niarhos is accused of shooting 39-year-old Jeremiah “Jay” W. Hawkins, who was experiencing homelessness, near the Norfolk Southern train tracks at South Hanover Street and Security Plaza, which is also the hub for the Pottstown Area Rapid Transit bus routes, as reported in the Mercury.

Our condolences go out to the victim, as well as the Niarhos family and Beacon of Hope church.

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