The city of Ringgold unanimously approved the final reading of its new urban camping ordinance Monday night, Dec. 10, which is designed to keep people from setting up permanent residences on public property.

Ringgold's homelessness, or "urban camping" issue, has been a hot topic of conversation in recent weeks after residents complained about a handful of men living under the bridge along U.S. Highway 41 next to the Ingle's grocery store.

Those complaints were received by Councilman Larry Black, who spearheaded the city's creation and implementation of the ordinance.

After approving the ordinance in an emergency capacity last month, the final reading on Monday, Dec. 10, makes it official.

The ordinance prohibits prolonged camping (living) in public parks and other areas of the city, as well as storage of public property in such locations for long periods of time.

A big part of the concern of residents business owners involved the fact that a few of the men living under the bridge were registered sex offenders.

Since that knowledge became public, those men have moved on from the bridge.

"We can't solve this problem overnight," Black said during November's first reading. "We as a City Council decided how we needed to go forward to address the concerns of our residents."

With the ordinance in place, the Ringgold Police Department will issue warnings to anyone violating the ordinance. Violators will then have a 24 hours to comply.

Prior to the final reading Monday (Dec. 10), Councilman Kelly Bomar questioned whether the 24-hour deadline was ample time for a person to get their belongings gathered up and possibly arrange for another place to stay.

However, the ordinance was officially adopted with the deadline in place.

Police Department Administrative Coordinator Wayne Thaxton, who attended the work session and meeting Monday night (Dec. 10), says officers will have discretion in the matter as they attempt to enforce the new city law.

In addition to the ordinance itself, a collection of local pastors, social workers, and homeless advocates have been holding meetings to organize services for people in Catoosa County who find themselves without a home or place to stay.

The group held its first public forum on Nov. 15 and was able to organize temporary hotel services for a gentleman who at the time was the last remaining camper under the bridge.

During the most recent meeting on Nov. 26, Ringgold United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Chris Bryant said other churches have stepped up and are willing to pay for the man's stay for additional weeks at the Ringgold hotel.

Bryant also stressed the importance of meeting regularly and formulating goals for how the group might create long-term solutions.

"There's an immediate need, which is area one, and then area two is what do we do long-term," Bryant said.

'There's an immediate need, which is area one, and then area two is what do we do long-term.'

Pastor Chris Bryant

Ringgold United Methodist Church