Officials in Ringgold are discussing the possibility of implementing an ordinance to try to regulate “urban camping” after multiple residents have complained of people living under the bridge along U.S. Highway 41 next to Ingle’s grocery.
During the Oct. 8 City Council meeting, Councilman Larry Black presented the issue to the board and the public, saying that a handful of folks are permanently living under the bridge.
“The reason I put this on the agenda…I had a couple of complaints this past week of the people who are apparently living permanently under the bridge there beside Ingle’s,” Black said. “We have some of the residents that live close by concerned about that and it looks like this group of people started on the other side near Babb Lumber Co. and then moved over to the city side and are there it looks like on a permanent basis under the bridge.”
In the council agenda packet, there was a sample ordinance from another city of how it addresses those type issues.
Black suggested the board gather information and ordinances on how it’s handled elsewhere and then formulate a course of action for Ringgold.
“We need to see if we do have a need to try to regulate this to try to stop the permanent camping on the streets, the sidewalks, or in this case, under the bridge,” Black said. “Also, an ordinance to go right along with that to prohibit the storing of personal property and tents, backpacks, knapsacks, sleeping bags and things like that.”
Black said that one of the first courses of action should be to create a dialogue with those under the bridge.
“Right along with the need for the ordinance, we want to go out and meet and talk to these people and have some kind of services available to them because as most people know, it’s a situation where they are homeless apparently and have no place to go. Hopefully we can go out and meet and offer some services as fall and winter are coming so we can address that.” — Councilman Larry Black
Mayor Nick Millwood says the focus should be on how to help those in need.
“I think that would be an important aspect of that — making sure that we help them through the process to find options. If we were to move in this direction, absolutely that’s an important component — to make sure we’re stepping them along the way and providing that help.” — Mayor Nick Millwood
No official action was taken on the matter during Monday night’s Council meeting. Black said he just wanted to make the board aware of the situation and possibly bring it back to the agenda in two weeks for the next meeting after the city has had time examine the issue further.
“We wanted to get it out there and educate our audience and the board of what the actual issues is,” Black said. “The complaints came from our city residents who actually live right there close to this area and they are concerned about it.”
As Black pointed out, those camping under the bridge aren’t there by choice. They are there because they seem to have no other options available to them.
Tuesday morning, Oct. 9, Mayor Millwood posted on social media that he’d gone down to the bridge and met with a couple of the men living under it.
“Putting faces and stories to public policy debates makes decisions like this a lot more sobering,” Millwood wrote. “I’m exploring ideas to find them a more permanent solution.”
Millwood added that those staying there seemed to be doing OK food-wise through food stamps and Social Security benefits.
“I can’t imagine being out there this winter,” Millwood said.