Homeless ordinances

Like LaFayette, many communities across America have adopted ordinances regulating where their homeless can and cannot go and what they can and cannot do, both on public and private property. / Contributed

The LaFayette City Council, during is February meeting, approved two ordinances related to the homeless.

The first ordinance, titled “Urban Camping and Improper Use of Public Places,” focuses on where the homeless can and cannot be and what they can do there.

The second ordinance, titled “Prohibited Solicitation,” addresses and establishes guidelines for where and how individuals, homeless or not, can and specifically cannot solicit or “request an immediate donation of money or other things of value from another person … .”

According to Mayor Andy Arnold and council members, the specific intent of both ordinances is to ensure the safety of LaFayette residents, young and old, especially in public places such as parks, playgrounds, on streets, sidewalks, parking lots, bridges, and so on.

It was noted by several council members during February’s meeting that residents had told council members they were sometimes afraid and even intimidated by the presence and actions of some of the homeless in these public places.

Another major issue and concern pointed out during the February discussion was that a homeless person and his possessions such as a back-pack, bedroll, sleeping bag, tent, etc., become an “eyesore” on public property such as on the street or bench or set up in a public park. Council member Chris Davis, a local real estate agent, further noted that such homeless camps, either of one homeless person or several, also would have a negative effect on property value and local business.

‘Urban Camping’ ordinance

The ordinance amended Chapter 15 of the LaFayette city code, offenses and miscellaneous provisions, by adding to Article I, Section 15-12 “Urban camping and improper use of public places,” which declares:

♦ “It shall be unlawful to camp or to store personal property in any public park,” which means “leaving one’s personal effects such as, but not limited to, clothing, bedrolls, cookware, sleeping bags, luggage, knapsacks, or backpacks, unattended for more than one (1) hour.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful to camp, sleep, store personal property, sit or lie down on any public street.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful to camp or store personal property underneath any bridge.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful to camp, sleep, store personal property, or to sit or lie down on any public property so as to interfere with the ingress or egress from buildings.”

♦ It shall be unlawful to camp, sleep, store personal property in any private property without the express permission of the property owner, but not in violation of any ordinance of the city including, but not limited to, the city’s zoning ordinance.”

The “Urban Camping Ordinance” also specifies that “no person may be arrested for violating this section until he has received an oral or written warning to cease the unlawful conduct. If the violator fails to comply with the warning issued, he is subject to arrest for urban camping.”

The ordinance also sets the punishment for violating the points enumerated therein, saying “upon conviction of a violation of this section, violator shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $250, incarceration not to exceed 20 days, or both.”

‘Prohibited Solicitation’ ordinance

The second and related ordinance on “Prohibited Solicitation” does not, in general, prohibit solicitation or the asking for money, but it does specifically target how is done and aggressive solicitation, which causes the approached resident fear for his or her safety.

As detailed in the ordinance, such aggressive solicitation would include:

♦ “Following a person during or after soliciting if the conduct is intend-ed to or is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm or the commission of a criminal act upon property in the person’s possession, or is intended to, or is reasonably likely to intimidate the person being solicited into responding affirmatively to the solicitation;

♦ “Continuing to solicit from a person after the person had given a negative response to such solicitation, if continuing the solicitation is intended to or is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm or the commission of a criminal act upon property in the person’s possession, or to is intended to, or is reasonably likely to intimidate the person being solicited into responding affirmatively to the solicitation;

♦ “Intentionally touching or causing physical contact with a person, without that person’s consent, in the course of soliciting;

♦ “Intentionally blocking or interfering with the safe or free passage of the person being solicited or requiring the person, or the driver of a vehicle, to take evasive action to avoid physical contact with the person making the solicitation. Acts authorized as an exercise of one’s constitutional right to picket or legally protest and acts authorized by a permit issued by the city shall not constitute an obstruction of pedestrian or vehicular traffic; or

♦ “Using abusive or threatening language or gestures intended to or likely to cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm or the commission of a criminal act upon property in the person’s possession, or intended to, or reasonably likely to intimidate the person being solicited into responding affirmatively to the solicitation.”

Thus the ordinance prohibits aggressive solicitation, saying “It shall be unlawful to solicit in an aggressive manner in any public place.”

This ordinance also details where a person, homeless or otherwise, cannot solicit:

♦ “It shall be unlawful to solicit in any public transportation vehicle or at any bus or public transportation station or stop.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful to solicit within fifteen (15) feet of any entrance or exit of any financial institution or check cashing business or within fifteen (15) feet of any automated teller machine without the consent of the owner or other person legally in possession of such facility. When an automated teller machine is located within an automated teller machine facility, the distance of fifteen (15) feet shall be measured from the entrance or exit of the automated teller machine facility.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful to solicit on private property if the owner, tenant, or lawful occupant has asked the person not to solicit on the property or has posted a sign clearly indicating that solicitations are not welcome on the property.

♦ “It shall be unlawful to solicit any operator or other occupant of motor vehicle while such vehicle is on any public street for the purpose of per-forming or offering to perform a service in connection with such a vehicle or otherwise soliciting the sale of goods or services. This sub-section shall not apply to services rendered in connection with emergency repairs requested by the operator or passengers of such vehicle.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful to solicit from any operator or occupant of a motor vehicle on a public street in exchange for blocking, occupying, or reserving a public parking space.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful to solicit in any public parking lot or public parking structure.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful to solicit within ten (10) feet of an entrance to any building.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful to solicit while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful to solicit after sunset or before sunrise.”

♦ “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly make a false or misleading representation in the course of soliciting. False or misleading misrepresentations include, but are not limited to, the following:

Stating that the solicitor is from out of town and is stranded when this statement is not true;

Stating or suggesting falsely that the solicitor is either a present or former member of the armed services;

Displaying any indication of physical disability when the solicitor does not suffer the disability indicated; or

Stating the solicitor is homeless when he or she is not.

♦ “It shall be unlawful to solicit in a group of two (2) or more persons.”

The ordinance establishes the punishment for its violation, saying “Upon conviction of a violation of this section, a violator shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $100, incarceration not to exceed 10 days, or both.”

When asked if the city is planning a public information campaign to inform, educate, and warn the homeless of LaFayette of the new ordinances and rules, Mayor Arnold said nothing was planned. “I am thinking just warnings by police,” the mayor said before violators were arrested and fined and/or jailed.

City officials stress that both ordinances are designed to protect and ensure the safety of the residents of LaFayette. To accomplish that goal, the ordinances address the homeless issue in LaFayette and define, direct, limit and even restrict where the homeless can and cannot go and how they can and cannot live.

Dee Decker is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga, and for the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

Assistant editor