City Council gave initial approval Tuesday to an ordinance that will ban camping on city public property, ostensibly putting an end to homeless camps that have popped up along creek beds.
The ordinance must endure the city attorney's review, as well as at least one more Council reading. As of now, though, it states that campers first will be given a warning and a referral to a service agency by police. If they do not remove their camp after 48 hours, they will be ticketed. Ignoring the ticket could lead to another ticket, and eventually jail time. Only the specially trained police Homeless Outreach Team will be allowed to issue the tickets, and no tickets will be issued when shelters are full.
The 8-1 decision came after a citizens' comments period that lasted for hours. Most attendees supported leaving the camps alone, either on principle or for logistical reasons.
Only Tom Gallagher, who was once homeless himself, voted against the ordinance. Gallagher, who called it an "out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to homelessness" earned loud applause when he said, "Jesus Christ came into the world homeless and he went out homeless."
Other Councilors countered that something had to be done, referencing the increasing availability of shelter beds (including some that have opened up at churches), and the hazards of the camps, ranging from raw sewage in the creeks to fire risks. Business owners claimed that nearby camps have led to property damage and harassment of customers. And Police Chief Richard Myers noted that in the absence of any ordinance, it was legal for people to camp on any city right-of-way, even a strip of greenway in a residential neighborhood.
Mayor Lionel Rivera proposed that Council give some city money to the homeless outreach effort. No one else chimed in on this suggestion.