Four days before the first Homelessness Task Force 2019 meeting was to occur on Thursday, the Rome City Commission discussed bringing a controversial homeless ordinance amendment back to the table.
During Monday’s discussion on the “urban camping” and “panhandling” ordinances toward the end of the Commission’s regular meeting, a few commissioners expressed frustration over the fact that Rome’s public safety officers are still without the tools they’ve asked for and seemed poised to bring the ordinances up for a vote.
“The Public Safety Committee ought to move this forward to a vote,” Public Safety Committee Member Craig McDaniel told the commission. “I feel a sense of urgency after reading emails from the police department over the last couple of weeks. They asked for a tool they could work with.”
Fellow committee member Randy Quick agreed with McDaniel, telling the group he felt the ordinance was designed to be an effective tool by allowing officers to give warnings to campers in public spaces before arresting them and confiscating their belongings. He stressed that the way the ordinance is written now, officers do not have to give warnings.
At that point Commissioner Wendy Davis spoke up saying she felt the ordinance was coming back up for a vote.
“I’m not reading the responses from the community (on the ordinance) the same way my colleagues are,” Davis said. “The mayor made it clear we needed continued conversation.”
Davis reminded them that those who attended the Aug. 30 called meeting by the Public Safety Committee to discuss the ordinance left the meeting with the knowledge Mayor Bill Collins asked a task force to be formed by community members and that the committee had tabled recommending the passage of the ordinance.
Davis said approving the ordinance now would feel “kinda sneaky.”
If Public Safety Committee members had made a motion to revive the ordinance it would have then gone back to the first reading before going back to the full commission for a vote.
Very little discussion followed before the commission moved on to other agenda items.
An email was sent out Monday morning from the Rome City Manager’s office to a dozen interested parties, inviting them to the homelessness task force meeting at 9:30 a.m. in the Carnegie Training Room next to City Hall Thursday.
“The Rome City Commission is grateful for your involvement in recent discussions on the area of homelessness in our community,” stated the invitation to Devon Smyth of Davies Shelters, Salvation Army Capt. Jason Smith, United Way Executive Director Alli Mitchell, Merlene Justice of Reaching Rome, Diane Lewis of Lewis Chemical and others.
Smyth — also the executive director of the area’s first shelter for women and families — said Wednesday she had heard about Monday’s commission meeting, but was feeling optimistic about Thursday’s task force get together that will include a recap of how the 2009 Homelessness Plan was created and spending time discovering the best way to tackle current issues.
“I am hopeful that this is the beginning of good work collaboratively here in Rome,” said Smyth, who already has formed a group called HOPE Alliance that will be reaching out to the homeless population every Monday starting Sept. 23 with breakfast and laundry supplies.