LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A camping ordinance is sparking an emotional debate among Louisville lawmakers.
The ordinance was first made public last week and transferred to the Parks Committee.
Councilwoman Nicole George (D-21) is one of the sponsors of an ordinance she says “cleans up” an existing ordinance that focuses on camping in Louisville parks and blocking public trails.
If passed now as written, the new regulation would make it unlawful for people to keep personal belongings on public streets, alleys or sidewalks unless otherwise permitted. The proposal would also increase the time the city has to reach an area before it is set up as a camp, from 48 hours to 72 hours.
Another notable change would limit the hours people can temporarily accommodate at a park without a permit.
Critics say this ordinance unfairly targets Louisville’s most vulnerable.
Over the past four years, the Metro Council has passed legislation to protect the homeless population, notably by tightening rules on camp closures.
Council President David James says finding housing for the homeless is the number one goal.
“But we also need to recognize that we have citizens who have been severely impacted by this situation,” James (D-6) said.
A situation he says discourages families from using public spaces.
“They can’t let their kids outside because they’re camping on the sidewalk in front of their house. Because there are syringes on the sidewalk in front of her house,” James said. “Because there is feces on the sidewalk in front of her house. Because the parks are full of syringes and droppings and trash from campsites and their kids can’t play in our parks because they’re not safe anymore.”
Ordinance co-sponsor Nicole George represents portions of South Louisville. She says this proposal isn’t targeting the homeless, but would increase access to shared spaces.
“I saw a grill on Breckinridge the other day completely blocking public right-of-way,” George said.
But supporters of Louisville’s Most Vulnerable People disagree and emerged in large numbers ahead of the Parks Committee meeting.
“This proposed regulation continues to erode confidence and stoke fear,” said TJ Martin.
Among the critics is council member Bill Hollander. He is particularly against the hasty removal of personal belongings on a sidewalk.
“Promptly confiscating and imposing fines when items are left on public property is a misguided, impractical and ineffective approach to addressing homelessness,” Hollander (D-9) said.
He called this particular proposal unnecessary.
“There is state law that allows the LMPD to subpoena people who are blocking a sidewalk,” Hollander said. “It can be enforced if the police do their job. If they don’t do their job, we have to do something about the police. We give them over $200 million a year.”
Opponents noted who was not involved in the discussion, including the Homeless Coalition.
“I have not been required by the co-sponsors or the administration to be part of this regulation. And these are not recommendations that I would make as a councilor representing the district with the most camps,” Councilor Jecorey Arthur (D-4) said.
Councilor George says she would like more say, particularly from neighbors who live near camps.
TJ Martin is the Outreach Manager at St. John Center, an organization that helps people affected by homelessness. He recognizes that neighbors’ concerns about the safety and sanitation of the areas are legitimate. But says this regulation is not a solution.
“How about we suggest that we create safe places for people to store their belongings?” asked Martin. “How about we have day care centers in every part of the city and offer them services? And above all, we really need affordable housing.”
There was no vote at Thursday’s session.
The park committee next meets on October 6th. President James says they hope the head of the LMPD will be present.
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