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Deputies clear courthouse of homeless

CINCINNATI (AP) — Homeless people who routinely sleep at the Hamilton County Courthouse were cleared off steps and benches early Friday as the sheriff followed through on a plan he announced weeks ago to stop the practice.

A federal judge on Thursday denied a request in a lawsuit filed by four homeless men for an order to block any arrests when the sheriff puts his plan into place.

Sheriff's department spokesman Jim Knapp told The Associated Press "very few" homeless people were at the courthouse plaza when deputies arrived overnight and no one was arrested. He said deputies encountered no problems.

"We just told them to move on, and they did," Knapp said.

Sheriff Jim Neil announced weeks ago that while he is sympathetic with those who have no place to live, he would eventually end the practice of people sleeping outside the courthouse. He cited a public health hazard from the messes left and also said there had been damage to the courthouse.

"It was time," Knapp said, adding that the county will launch a project for cleanup and repairs at the courthouse. No trespassing signs had been posted earlier.

Homeless advocates say the well-lighted public property has been a safe place for people with few options for shelter to gather. Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said government should be "working to create a system where nobody is forced to sleep outside, instead of working to push people who are already marginalized further into the margins."

Spring said the federal lawsuit would go forward.

The four homeless men who filed the suit claim their constitutional rights are being violated and they are being subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment" for being homeless.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott ruled that the men hadn't shown they had suffered any injury and they hadn't identified a law they believed to be unconstitutional.

"The court cannot begin to consider whether such arrests would amount to unconstitutional criminalization of homelessness when the very occurrence of those arrests is speculative," she wrote in denying the request for a temporary restraining order.

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AP writer Amanda Lee Myers contributed to this story.

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