Council talks homeless regulations

Published 6:26 pm Wednesday, July 10, 2024

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Because of the recent Supreme Court decision related to public sleeping and homelessness, the city council asked the city attorney what that might mean for LaGrange and any potential laws the city might want to pursue.

The city of Grants Pass, Oregon, passed an ordinance that prohibited sleeping on sidewalks, streets and alleyways, prohibited camping on public property and also prohibited camping in public parks. Those who were found to be in violation of the ordinance could be banned from a particular area and jailed for up to 30 days with a fine of up to $1,250.

A class action lawsuit was filed in the Ninth Circuit, saying that the law was illegal because they were not homeless by choice and there were not enough available beds, which meant that they were being prosecuted for their status. The Ninth Circuit found that to be true and found that to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment, the cruel and unusual punishment clause, and that was appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court recently reversed that decision, saying it did not agree with the Eighth Amendment argument and didn’t want to tie the hands of local officials.

City Attorney Jeff Todd said the city already has laws on the books that would deal with some of the issues. LaGrange already has an ordinance that prohibits people from being in public parks after they’re closed, which thereby forbids camping in public parks because people can’t be in there at all after hours.

Todd said some jurisdictions in Georgia have adopted have adopted anti-camping ordinances. They also use a prohibition of collecting personal belongings and having them all sitting in parks as a way to regulate the issue.

There are also common sense exceptions that have been put in local ordinances, such as if someone falls asleep after sitting down to watch a parade, he said.

Police Chief Garrett Fiveash said that they already have some appropriate tools for dealing with the issue but he isn’t opposed to revisiting current regulations as related to the decisions. He said they can already issue criminal trespass warnings for when people are “camping” where they are not supposed to be.

“I do think, with more specificity, we could get a little bit more fine-tuned on what we already have to make it easier for us to solve [issues],” Fiveash said. “It’s certainly not a matter of putting everybody in jail, but having those tools available to us.”

Fiveash said there is a lot of gray area that needs to be ironed out.

“You get into the gray area where, are they camping? Are they homeless? Or are they just resting? Those kinds of things we need to talk about and put some stipulations in,” he said.

Mayor Jim Arrington said that staff should look at the ordinances to better help with the homeless issue but also noted that the city needs to better support the homeless shelter.

“The Homeless Coalition told us that there are 185 homeless children. They know that because they can follow them in the school system. That would mean that there is probably close to 300 homeless people [in LaGrange] just by their estimates,” Arrington said.