A monthly charity event on the grounds of John G. Carlisle School in Covington drew so many people on Saturday that neighbors say they have had enough and the City says organizers need to have a special event permit.
Isaiah House is a Christian volunteer organization that offers free food, clothing, and toys to the homeless and poor but its monthly events at John G. have grown in size and neighbors complained to City Hall that trash is being left behind, cars are being parked on the sidewalk and taking up spaces for the residents, and that most recently two portable toilets were left in the front yard of a newly constructed home for sale on Banklick Street.
One resident of the Old Seminary Square neighborhood sent an email to City Hall outlining multiple points that show why neighbors were frustrated on Saturday. "What was once a service to the needy living in Covington, has become a magnet for people from surrounding counties and even across the Ohio River," the neighbor wrote. "Since Isaiah House is located in Park Hills, why don't they hold their Outreach Saturday in Park Hills or at an empty corporate parking lot rather than in a dense residential neighborhood location?"
Other neighbors who complained to the charity's leadership were not available for comment on Tuesday.
The email went on to complain that the monthly event is impacting Russell, West Robbins, Banklick, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Streets from Pike Street to Twelfth Street. It said that hundreds of people start standing in line beginning as early as 7 a.m. with many in cars that have Ohio or Boone County license plates.
"Parking is already a premium in Old Seminary Square and on these particular Saturdays, cars are parked on sidewalks and on the sides of streets where parking is prohibited," the email said. "(Saturday) a police officer responded to a call I made and she cleared about fifteen cars that were parked on the sidewalks, not just on the curb, (but) up in the middle of the sidewalk blocking all access."
Another point of contention was the fact that portable toilets were placed in front of one of the new houses on Banklick Street, part of the City of Covington's neighborhood stabilization program. A call to a real estate agent from The River City News confirmed that there were showings scheduled for that day.
"What would someone looking to buy a home in Old Seminary Square think if (they) came to see a property with Port-O-Lets in the front yard?," the email asked. "Several properties are for sale in our neighborhood and this presents a less than desirable image."
Additional complaints included food containers being left on the sidealks and that a large 18-wheeler semi-truck was brought in to deliver food items. That truck may be in violation of a city ordinance prohibiting such vehicles from city streets in that neighborhood.
John Eldridge, outreach coordinator at Isaiah House, did not want to offer an official comment when reached by phone on Monday. He said he was working on crafting a response and that he was surprised by the criticism since his organization has been holding events in that area for roughly twenty years. He told WXIX in April, "We have come out to one of the most under-resourced parts of Covington. People don't have transportation so we bring the resources to them."
What may be at issue is a resource that Isaiah House appears not to have: a permit.
Assistant City Manager/City Solicitor Frank Warnock met with Eldridge on Monday. "I explained that he needs to get a special event permit if the event is going to be of the magnitude that occurred Saturday," Warnock told The River City News. "Then, the city will follow its process for reviewing special events within the City."
Also at issue is that Covington Independent Public Schools, of which John G. Carlisle is a part, appears to be unaware of how or when Isaiah House got approval to use the site. The point person at CIPS on this issue did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment but an official within the district told The River City News that the organization had not gone through the proper channels and that work is underway to complete proper documentation for the event.
Warnock said he was jogging in the neighborhood on Saturday and noticed the event and was unsure what it was. "I can see why some of the neighbors were upset," he said. "I noticed vehicles parked on the sidewalks. There were a lot of people converging on a relatively quiet neighborhood seemingly all at once."
"I think the operators have good intentions but there are unintended consequences. The event needs to be managed in a more prudent manner with much less impact to the neighborhood. The event may have outgrown its location."
"We are in support of helping the needy in our community and in fact many residents of the Old Seminary Square neighborhood participated for several years in feeding the poor and homeless at Madison Avenue Christian Church," the neighbor's email continued. "The point is that laws are being broken and the event is so large and attracting too many people from other areas to our small, dense, residential neighborhood."
"It occurs once each month, but as one new neighbor in a new home on Banklick Street told me, 'We do not invite anyone over to our house on the last Saturday of the month.' Everyone is very tired of the excessive trash."
At the monthly event, Isaiah House offers food and other supplies as well as toys for kids to the less fortunate. The event is organized with roped lines and volunteers. Last Christmas, more than 3,000 toys were given to local families.
Following Saturday's event, the group posted to its Facebook page, "What a wonderful day of ministry we had at our John G Carlisle and Glen O Swing locations today. The presence of His Holy Spirit was strongly felt. Several hundred stood in the rain waiting to be served while 125 waited eagerly to serve them. As we began with the more morning welcome and message it was apparent that God saw the gathering as nothing less than a church service without a building. The rain stopped, hearts were open and the Spirit was drawing them in. Glory was given to God for His provision, some of which arrived at 6 p.m. the night before. You could feel God's love in the air and see the attentive souls silenced only by the rain dripping from the trees. A simple message was given and at least 35 people made a decision to become a Christ follower."
Eldridge said he hopes to create a dialogue with neighbors to avoid any contention in the future.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News