With a handgun strapped to his belt, the owner of what was once a Far West Side farm points a chubby finger to a nearby retention pond in a small and mostly forgotten City of Columbus park. “There was once an old stone church there. Presbyterian,” says the mustached man from under his ball cap. 

The church was demolished for the pond when a large apartment complex went up next door in 2001. The City turned the church’s former property into Clover Park, and near the pond’s banks is a cemetery where some of the dead perished in the Civil War fighting for the Union. They had to be Presbyterian.

“At least the City kept the bodies,” says “Brett” who wished to remain anonymous. His property, with a 100-year-old farmhouse and barn intact, is close to Clover Park.

Brett keeps a close eye on his surroundings. He says it’s not so peaceful out in these parts anymore as thousands of new homes and apartments arise from the Far West Side prairie land. He says this even though a nearby Evangelical church asked him to stop firing his semi-automatic rifle. “Nope” is what he told them.

Houseless people move into Clover Park, says Brett, but they eventually move on. One time a tent and a heap of belongings were left behind.

The Free Press had also seen the tent and belongings for months, if not an entire year (pictured above). It was behind the cemetery and shielded by a grove of trees, offering some privacy. But any houseless spot is never a good location for the suffering.

Nevertheless, Brett wanted the tent and belongings gone.

“I’ve called 311 nine times – nine times,” he says gritting his teeth, “over twelve months, and no one has ever come out. Nobody.”

The Free Press wrote about “Brett” and his calls to 311 in a recent story which focused on out-of-control development on the Far West Side. Two weeks after the story was published the tent and belongings in Clover Park were removed by Columbus Recreation and Parks’ workers.

“311” (or 614-645-3111) of course is the number for all non-emergency City of Columbus public services, such as bulk trash pickup or fixing a pothole. The City says its 311 offers the “highest possible levels of customer service,” and when it comes to bulk trash pick-ups, 311 has done the job say residents even though the add the website is difficult to use. But the Free Press has also heard many complaints about 311 for requests other than bulk pick-ups.

So, what’s the 411 on Columbus’s 311 which has been in service for over two decades? Did it take a news article for the City of Columbus to finally take action on removing a houseless tent?

“311 does not have a backlog of service requests to be routed to departments,” said Courtney Wheaton, a City of Columbus spokesperson. “The role of 311 is to route requests for service to the appropriate City department. Requests are routed based on the information that is shared with 311 by the resident. Each department has their own process to address the requests they receive from 311.”

Earlier this year Columbus’s 311 was “enhanced,” as the City described it. The 311 customer service line’s hours extended from 7 am to 7 pm (still no weekends though). Requests can also be submitted 24 hours a day online at, or by using the CBUS 311 app, and email at

The Free Press asked the City to find out how many times 311 was called to remove the houseless tent from Clover Park.

“311 identified one request specifically about a ‘Ripped tent filled and overflowing with trash. Located behind tree line behind Clover cemetery,’” said Wheaton. “This request was routed to the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department on May 31st. Please contact Recreation and Parks if you have questions regarding the process they use to resolve requests such as this.”

“Brett” insists he called 311 nine times over the previous 12 months to remove the houseless tent. The Free Press may not agree with Brett’s politics or gun strapped to his belt, but he sure as heck sounds believable.

Free Press columnist Harvey Graff – and a concerned Columbus resident – has been reporting on 311 for several years now.

“Everyone in Columbus, including heads of Refuse, Zoning, etc., agree that it needs to be 24/7,” said Graff. “The Monday backup can be 2-3-4 days or more.”

He adds, “311 only sends out complaints to what they think might be the relevant department. They do not monitor or follow up or assist. I have spoken to heads and assistant heads (of departments).”

Graff believes, “311 is representative and revealing of all City of Columbus non-operations.”

“Finally, despite the simple facts that reporting to 311 typically leads to no action, department heads urge me to keep reporting ‘because it creates a record’. Which no one ever looks at.”