After more than two months of debate on the merits of two amended city ordinances requested by local law enforcement to help them better handle complaints about homeless camps and aggressive panhandlers, the Rome City Commission passed the “urban camping” and panhandling ordinances 8 votes to 1 Monday night at Rome City Hall.
City Commissioner Wendy Davis was the lone dissenter after the commission heard from four guests — including a homeless man named Allen — who mostly wanted commissioners to vote against the ordinances.
“I can’t thank you enough for coming here,” Davis told Allen, who had shared his story about falling on hard times after he’d had a massive heart attack last year. “You told your story and that took a lot of courage.”
Davis shared with the more than eight homeless advocates in the audience that when another homeless man asked Mayor Bill Collins before the meeting what would happen if the ordinances were passed and a police officer came upon a homeless person camping in the woods, the mayor could not give him an answer.
“I can’t let that go,” Davis explained. “I understand these (ordinances) are a tool, but they’re not a solution.”
Devon Smyth, director of Davies Shelters and the founder of a new collaborative group reaching out to the homeless known as HOPE Alliance, shared her own solutions with the Commission before their vote.
She told them HOPE Alliance — a new coalition of citizens, nonprofits and community leaders working to build long-term solutions to end homelessness in Rome — is picking up the 2009 Rome and Floyd County Plan “Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness One Person at a Time” where it left off without the formation of a new 501(c)3 nonprofit.
“We need your investment,” Smyth told the Commission. “The HOPE Alliance is requesting that the City of Rome engage Simply Strategic Consulting to guide our new collaboration through the process of formation, strategic planning, administrative coordination, membership policy, evaluation, reporting and fundraising.”
She went on to explain that with the help of Courtney Cash, the owner of the consulting firm, the group hopes to meet seven outcomes over the next 12 months.
Those outcomes include things like coming up with a basic needs list for the homeless and coordinating services to deliver those necessities; creating an up-to-date inventory of transitional housing resources; assisting with the 2020 Census for a more accurate count of the homeless population for better planning on delivery of services and the procurement of government funding; creating a list of professional mental health service providers willing to serve as transitional counselors to respond in emergency situations; and developing a community-wide fundraising effort in the spring of 2020 to help fund needed services for the homeless.
“In addition, the HOPE Alliance will develop a long-term fundraising plan that includes significant grant-based funding,” Smyth said toward the conclusion of her speech. “Thank you again for your leadership and time as we work together to affect change in Rome and Floyd County.”
Mayor Collins addressed Allen directly, telling him that the ordinances are a blessing in disguise because they have caused the revival of the community’s efforts to work collaboratively toward solutions.
“There’s a great opportunity here,” Collins told him as he nodded. “Your voice will not go unheard. I would say if we see you in six months or a year from now, you will have a different story to tell.”
Rome Police Chief Denise Downer-McKinney sat quietly in the back of the room during the entire meeting with her best poker face. She shared her thoughts afterward.
“I’m glad officers have a tool now to assist them in their jobs,” Downer-McKinney said. “I’m elated the ordinances have brought people together and provided an opportunity to collaborate and work toward a long-term solution.”