Homeless Encampment Fire Sparks Action

Officials: Burning Candles Ignite Blaze

A fire at a homeless encampment on Indianapolis' east side Tuesday morning drew the attention of city officials who will grapple with how to handle a difficult, pervasive problem.

The blaze began just after 9 a.m. at the Davidson Street railroad overpass when homeless people who were trying to stay warm in frigid conditions burned candles that caught other items ablaze, 6News' Jack Rinehart reported.

Homeless people have been congregating in the area for a long time, dispersed only when the city determines that conditions there are intolerable or when, such as in this case, a fire threatens public safety.

No one was injured, but police, fire officials and the Department of Public Works were still at the scene late Tuesday morning disposing of tents and other assorted items left behind.

"It makes me angry because one person messes it up for everyone," said Kay, a woman who said she had been living in the camp. "Right now, I'm waiting on my Social Security to come through, and I have nowhere to go."

Mayor Greg Ballard stopped by to see what was going on first hand.

He expressed torn feelings about the plight of the people involved, many of whom refuse to go to shelters, and people who enable them to live that way by providing them with food and clothing that piles up, resulting in fires.

"We really want them to come in and get warm, and there are people ready to do that, but so many don't want to budge, and they won't budge, and they're enabled to stay out here," Ballard said.

The mayor said there will be a meeting in the next few days that will bring together police, city and social services officials to determine what can be done about similar situations.

Probationers serving community service hours were called in to assist with the cleanup, while social service workers took an inventory of the losses, trying to replace clothes and bedding.