Ithaca's 'Jungle' in jeopardy

By Erika Mahoney

April 21, 2014 Updated Apr 21, 2014 at 8:46 PM EDT

Ithaca, NY (WBNG Binghamton) After two recent deaths at an outdoor homeless community in Ithaca called "The Jungle," officials are working to clear out what many have considered problematic for years.

The homeless have gathered in that same spot in Ithaca for more than 100 years.

It's a vast, overgrown space on the city's west side bound by a railroad track and a river.

But as of two weeks ago, the area looks much different. The city cut away the brush and trees to clear the area and spent hours picking up broken beer bottles and hypodermic needles.

The mayor's office started the initiative because they're concerned about public safety.

In December, a tent fire killed someone staying there, and a man was found dead in early April.

Since 2010, the mayor's office reports there have been about 6 deaths in The Jungle.

Part of the difficulty in responding to an emergency there is its location and natural setting.

Multiple agencies came together to pave a path through the railroad track for emergency vehicles. They also cut down the trees to increase visibility.

"We've had a lot of 911 calls specifically for this area," Ithaca Chief of Staff Kevin Sutherland said. "So we want to reduce those calls and make the line of sight better and get crews in here when we need to."

But those who frequent The Jungle are upset that what they call home is being invaded.

"Just leave us alone, the honest truth," said Lorraine Tunnicliff. "This is the place for people to come and just relax. Sit around, have a little bonfire."

Sutherland said six different agencies that help the homeless have been visiting the area everyday to make sure those living there know they have options for help.

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