Residents clash over "homeless' encampment

City attorney says steps being taken to clean up area soon


FORT MADISON - Explicatives were flying about at the start of Tuesday's regular City Council meeting as residents living near what has been called a homeless encampment pleaded with city officials to take action.

Lisa Holloway, who lives on the 1300 block of 24th Street, cried as she pleaded with the Fort Madison City Council to take action regarding property near 23rd Street and Avenue N where tarps have been hung between trees with people living on the property where no homes exist.

"I look out my door every day and see this," she said pointing to a photo in a local newspaper.

"I wanna know what the city is going to do to protect me from that man over there."

Holloway pointed to Randall Cummings, who has apparently paid cash for the property, and accused him of verbally harassing her.

Cummings denied Holloway's accusations and said he owns the property and keeps vagrants, drunks, and drug users off the property.

Cummings said he has four addresses and lives on the property, but the city won't give him an address. He said the city won't give him utilities on the property.

But he warned city officials if they encroached on the property.

"You guys do what you wanna do, but it's a fight you're fixin' to get from me," Cummings said before walking out of the meeting.

Holloway said she can't sleep with her windows open out of fear and doesn't feel safe in her own home.

"Who's going to protect me? That's my question."

Mohrfeld encouraged Holloway to meet with the police department before she left the meeting and Holloway did leave with Capt. Dustin Fullhart before she left.

Holloway said the issue has been going on for several months and the city hasn't done anything to address the ongoing issue.

Another resident in the area also complained about the neighborhood.

Richard Bohnenkamp, who lives in the 1200 block of 23rd Street, said he has made the decision to carry a weapon now while in the neighborhood.

Bohnenkamp said he's lived in the area for more than two decades and it's been a nice, quiet neighborhood and the last several months has been "bedlam".

He said there are odors eminating from the property and he hasn't seen any children. Bohnenkamp said Police Chief Mark Rohloff told him they had permits to camp there, but they couldn't stay overnight.

"They stay at night all the time. They were going through my yard at 3:30 or 4 in the morning. What were they looking for? Car keys," he said.

"This is trouble and it has to be taken care of. If you want to look for someplace to put these homeless people, fine, do it. But if you can't find a place, take 'em to your back yard and put up with them. We've put up with them for three months now."

Pat O'Connell, the city's attorney said the city is taking action, but he couldn't talk in too much detail because it is pending litigation.

But O'Connell did say court documents have been filed and an abatement process is underway under the city's nuisance code. He also said the city is also heading to court on the issue  in case of non-compliance or repetition of the offenses.

"We're going to hit it from two different angles and it will be handled as swiftly as code staff can handle it," he said. "We do have to wait until the date of expiration on the warning letter we sent. Once that hits, which is next week, then we'll be off to the races on trying to clean it up."

In other action, the council:
• approved a resolution to move several residents and about 2,400 feet of city water lines on West Point Hill outside city limits to Rathbun Regional Water Association.
• approved an engineering agreement with Veenstra & Kimm Inc. of Coralville for design and engineering services to replace a booster station on Denmark Hill.


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