The city council struggles with the homeless who camp out on city properties

The Brevard City Council began the process of creating a city ordinance to address homeless people camping on public property, but ultimately decided that the proposed new regulation needed further consideration and revision before moving forward.

Brevard Police Chief Tom Jordan said there is currently no city ordinance regarding tent camping on public property within the city limits. The matter was raised to the city’s Committee of Public Safety last month, and Jordan proposed an addition to Brevard’s Code of Ordinances that states that “no person may set up or maintain camp within city limits for any period except that within private property with the express consent of the property owner” and that “sleeping is prohibited on any city street, sidewalk, park, alley or other area within the city limits, except within private property and with the express consent of the owner”.

Jordan explained that failure to comply with the proposed ordinance would result in a class 3 misdemeanor, but he wanted his officers to first refer homeless people to local support services such as local shelters and other resources before addressing the situation as a criminal violation as a last resort. resource .

“The Brevard Police Department is dedicated to treating all individuals, including those experiencing homelessness, in a manner that respects individual rights and human dignity,” he said. “We are committed to enforcing all laws and ordinances to protect life and property within the City of Brevard. When we encounter residents suffering from homelessness, our efforts will first focus on finding suitable services. We don’t want to criminalize the homeless.”

Instead of arresting offenders on sight or forcibly removing them from city property, Jordan said his officers would contact resources like Haven County of Transylvania and Blue Ridge Health for assistance.

“If we were meeting someone in a tent, we would advise them where there is a shelter they can go to and other resources available to them,” Jordan explained. “If shelters are full, we will notify our resource roster. They would come out as soon as possible and we allow the tent to stay in place. We don’t just pick everyone up and take them to jail, take down their tents or anything like that. We give resources a chance to stay and from there we try to find somewhere they can go with their unique circumstances.

The police chief also said he realized the situation was difficult for the city to deal with.

“I know there are people on both sides who are going to see it differently and I respect both sides.” Giordano said. “All I can say is that our law enforcement agency will do this with as much compassion and empathy as possible. It’s not something you can criminalize and arrest to fix the problem. It’s something that affects people and we can’t forget that.”

Several people attending the public hearing on the potential ordinance said they appreciate Jordan’s intentions, but stressed that adding lesser criminal penalties for those facing homelessness would only exacerbate the problem.

“If compassionate enforcement of the ordinance is what you seek, why not remove the criminal and civil penalties in the ordinance and make those policies and protocols part of the ordinance to ensure it is impacted every time an interaction occurs?” said Madeline Offen, chair of the board of The Haven of Transylvania County and co-director of homelessness prevention for Pisgah Legal Services. “I appreciate the efforts of the police and the boss as they don’t want to criminalize the homeless, but that’s exactly what he does.”

“I understand how having tents in the middle of the city is a problem, but you have to look at it as more than a tent; he is a person and that person should be treated as a person,” said Haven Executive Director Emily Lowery. “Suing them will only add a burden to the justice system as these people are unable to pay fines. They don’t already have the money to do what they have to do as it is. That’s simply not the answer.

City council members stressed that Jordan’s provisions to treat the homeless compassionately were not specifically set forth in the proposed new ordinance.

“I have no guarantee that if we pass this ordinance tonight, the officers would do anything but tell people camping in 28-degree weather, which in my mind is not an option, to move forward,” said Councilwoman Geraldine Dinkins .

“There are no policies and procedures here. There are no compassionate words here. I appreciate what the staff and others have mentioned here tonight but this is not good. What we are reading here is not good and it is not moral,” added Counselor Aaron Baker. “If compassion is supposed to be here, I want to read it in a policy when we’re making a decision and it’s not here. All I have to judge on is what’s here and what I’ve read here is targeting people who are experiencing homelessness. It’s criminalizing being so poor you can’t afford a house in Brevard.”

Acting Mayor Gary Daniel pointed out that being charged with a felony could prevent someone from accessing public housing opportunities and that was just one reason he thought the proposed ordinance needed more work.

“In my opinion, this proposed ordinance seems ill-conceived, unplanned and unformed considering all the effects it will have,” Daniel said. “This is not something I feel should go on.”

After a motion to defer a vote on the ordinance to the December 5 board meeting failed, board members unanimously approved sending the motion to the Public Safety Committee for further discussion of policies and procedures with representatives of local agencies serving the homeless population. Those staff discussions will not include punishments for criminal offenses, but will include involvement of the Brevard Housing Trust Fund Committee or a special task force formed to further consider what role the city should play in the matter.

“Providing homeless services and generally tackling homelessness is not typically in a municipality’s sandbox,” said City Manager William Hooper. “We need to get a little smarter about what our involvement in a homeless response would look like.”

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