An early Monday morning shooting on the 14th Street pedestrian bridge has put the spotlight on a homeless community under that downtown Columbus bridge.
No one was injured but three teenagers are under arrest and a fourth suspect is at large in a robbery attempt of a Phenix City homeless man.
Mayor Skip Henderson says the city is in the process of addressing the problem.
“We are not going to operate in a silo,” Henderson told News 3 on Tuesday. “We are not going to have just one organization brought to the table. We will probably bring together law enforcement, Home for Good, Pat Frey, city manager’s office. And we will talk to people who are actually living down there. It will be a comprehensive strategy to address it. But we have to do something. “
That meeting will take place soon.
But for now, more than a dozen homeless people have taken up residence along the Chattahoochee Riverwalk. And they have been there for several months.
Pat Frey, executive director of Home for Good, tells News 3 her organization has been working on the issue for months, trying to find shelter and solutions for those along the river.
“We get some people moved out and others move in,” Frey said.
The city has locked bathrooms under the bridge. They are not usable. Many of those who ride bikes and run along the Riverwalk go around the homeless camp.
It is not safe for those exercising to go through there, Henderson told News 3.
“It’s actually become dangerous,” Henderson said. “It is dangerous not only to the citizens who want to bike or walk along there. It is dangerous to the individuals under there. Somebody comes through that curve in the evening and they are on a bicycle, there is the potential for a collision.”
One of the reasons it’s dangerous is because of all of the sleeping bags and other belongings.
There are also lead pipes and makeshift weapons near the sleeping area.
Garrett Williams, 27, was the victim of Monday’s robbery. The Phenix City man has been on the street for about six months.
When he was held at gunpoint atop the bridge, he said he called for help and his friends and cousins came with sticks and the makeshift weapons to help protect him.
Williams says four people tried to rob one of the men in the camp. A shot was fired and three people were arrested. Marlaciea Matthews, 19, is being held in jail without bond. Two juvenile males are in custody. Police are looking for a fourth suspect.
Two city bathrooms that were added to the Riverwalk at a cost of more than $200,000 of city and state funds are not in use because of the homeless situation at the bridge.
“We got amenities down there for people who enjoy the Riverwalk,” Henderson said. “We can’t leave them open. When certain individuals get into those facilities they immediately begin to destroy the fixtures inside those bathrooms. We now have to keep them closed and locked up unless there’s an event on 14th Street bridge.”
The camp is literally between two of the city’s downtown jewels — a new $30 million hotel and the TSYS campus.
But the homeless people are there for a reason, Henderson said.
“You have a lot of resources in this particular area,” he said. “If you go up Second Avenue, you only have to go a quarter of a mile and you will find three or four different resources for people who are homeless. That’s a good thing. .. It does create a situation for them to stay close and convenient they picked one of the nicer areas in the community.”