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Promise of low-cost apartments draws unruly crowd, police say

Saturday, December 08, 2012
By  Holly Zachariah

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Columbus police used pepper spray early today to control and disperse a larger-than-expected crowd of people who had gathered at a Northeast Side church to sign up for a subsidized-housing waiting list.

Authorities said the crowd that gathered at Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church, 2283 Sunbury Rd., numbered well more than 1,000 and consisted mostly of local Somalis.

They were there because a nearby apartment complex, the Heritage, was holding an event at the church from 8 a.m. to noon to take names for a list for two-bedroom apartments.

Neighbors of the church started calling police about 6:30 a.m. to complain about loud music, blaring car horns and people parking in private driveways, according to police call logs.

Some members of the crowd started arguing with neighborhood residents, according to subsequent calls to police.

Eventually, someone from Heritage arrived to set up for the event, and police records indicate that the crowd then rushed the doors. That’s when police officers used chemicals to control the crowd. The event was canceled.

Police said an ambulance was brought on scene to treat those who had been sprayed but it appeared no one was arrested and no one was seriously injured.

No one from the Heritage complex, 2444 Gatewood Rd., could be reached for comment. No one was available for comment at the church, either.

A sign on the rental-office door of the apartment complex said the signup was being assisted by My Brother’s Keeper, a social-service ministry of the church.

The apartment complex has 384 units, according to its website. A sign on the door said the sign-up was for a pre-application to get on the waiting list and that only 200 people, first-come, first-served, would be accepted.

Hassan Omar, the leader of the Somali Community Association of Ohio, said he wasn’t at the event this morning but was on his way to the apartment complex late this afternoon to find out more about what happened. Most of the residents are Somali.

“The housing issue is a big deal for our community,” Omar said, “so I’m sure when they heard of a vacancy, everyone went.”

Columbus is home to the second-largest Somali community in the United States.


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