Man Living in Van Causing Concern in Neighborhood

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WOOSTER, Ohio-- Reverend Dennis Briggs said he arrived in Wooster about a month ago, down and out, hoping to reconnect with a brother he has not seen in a very long while.

"I was without a church so I came to stay with my brother. Unfortunately, when I got to Wooster, he had moved," Briggs told FOX 8 News.

With nowhere to go, Briggs said he parked his van legally on Woodland Avenue, living in his van until he was asked to move in mid-August, so the road could be used for the "Heart and Soul" 5k and 10k race.

"They were having a race that day, big deal in Wooster and so the Lord laid on my heart to pull around the corner here (onto Northwestern Avenue)," said Briggs.

Briggs said although he was parked there legally some of the neighbors were concerned.

One homeowner put a sign in his front yard saying 'Please don't feed the derelict. If you want a pet, take him to your house.'

"I can understand what he's saying. He's basically telling people you know, I don't want him here, so I don't feed him. If you want to feed him, you know, take him to your house. And, so I mean, he's trying to cut my food off because he feels that will force me out from in front of his house," said Briggs.

Briggs said police also started paying much closer attention to him, citing him for opening his van door into traffic, making sure he moved the vehicle every 72 hours, and citing him for not having his wheels curbed.

"The ordinance does say that if you are on a grade that not only do you have to have your emergency brake on, you also have to have your wheels curbed; so I did break the law, but the reason I'm appealing it is because I believe it's selective prosecution. Whenever you have three officers come out to your vehicle and terrorize you for two hours, no warrant, no probable cause, I believe that's selective prosecution," said Briggs.

He said the city has also since passed a new ordinance that prohibits people from staying in their vehicles for more than six hours.

Briggs said he has been cursed at and has placed wire fencing around the front of his van because people have thrown glass bottles at it.

He said he was initially allowed to shower at a YMCA just a block from where he is parked, but is now forbidden from being on their property.

The YMCA Director told FOX 8 News on Monday that a lawyer who is on their board of directors advised her not to comment.

Some people in the neighborhood have concerns.

"I think it's kind of creepy for the kids. Makes me worry about the kids, the little ones," said Linda Hershey.

"I just don't know what to think really because you see someone like that sitting around; you don't know what your frame of mind is. So, I guess that's why you should have a dwelling where you live because people don't know who it is," said Brian Tarpley, who lives on Woodland Avenue.

Briggs said police were able to help him locate his brother in Erie, Pennsylvania, but then his phone was stolen.

"My brother Joe moved to Erie and he was all ready to arrange something for me. My phone was already run down, so I plugged it in down at the park (Christmas Park), because I didn't have anywhere to plug it in and someone stole it and so my brother doesn't have any way to contact me," said Briggs.

Wooster police would not comment on Monday, referring FOX 8 to the city's law director who, along with the mayor, was out of the office.

Administrative Assistant Amy Hamilton emailed a statement on behalf of the mayor which reads:

"We are aware of Mr. Briggs' situation as well as the concerns of residents of that neighborhood. As a city government we believe that it is neither healthy nor safe for individuals to live in vehicles on the public streets, particularly when other safer options are available in our community. Mr. Briggs has been cited under a recently enacted ordinance prohibiting individuals from residing in vehicles on the public streets, but I want to stress that we are also making efforts to assist him in finding services that will meet both his immediate and long term needs for safe shelter. It is our intention to seek a quick resolution for the sake of all concerned."

In the meantime, Briggs said he has no plans to go anywhere else.

"I went to the Marathon out on Liberty (street) and she said she would give me a job tomorrow if I had an address, but I'm homeless, so I, you have to have a home to get a job and you have to have a job to get a home; so I'm kind of stuck," said Briggs.

"Whatever the Lord lays on my heart. He's not laying it on my heart to go anywhere, so I just need to find a job and earn some money so I could rent a place and just be like everybody else."