Group urges city council to repeal homeless camping ordinance

Group urges city council to repeal homeless camping ordinance

Amarillo, TX -  A group of residents is trying to overturn a city policy they claim is preventing Amarillo's homeless from staying warm during cold, winter nights.

In 2012, following problems with a tent city forming downtown, the Amarillo City Council approved Ordinance 7333. The ordinance prohibits people from camping on public property overnight. The definition of camping includes having a blanket and it's the wording the group says is a problem.

Hanna Huff, one of the residents opposing the ordinance, said according to its wording those who do not stay at shelters overnight cannot use blankets on public property to stay warm.

"If you were to lay down at City Hall on the grass or here on a bench and cover yourself with a blanket, that would be a Class C misdemeanor," said Huff.

Mayor Paul Harpole said the ordinance protects the city from another tent city forming, but does not target homeless with blankets. "It doesn't say if you have a blanket you're going to get arrested. It does not say that. You could be camping in the middle of the summer and still have the same problem."

Harpole said since the ordinance took effect, police have only issued six citations. "I think they believe police are rousting people. That's not true. We can see that from the citations issued, that's not happening."

Huff still believes the existence of the ordinance is hurting the homeless population.

"A lot of people actually hide," said Huff. "They go and make tents or they get blankets and they hide. That's very dangerous. They can freeze to death, they can be raped, they can be robbed. Why would we not want people sleeping under street lamps where police can see them and protect them?"

Huff and others opposing the ordinance plan on showing up to Tuesday's city council meeting with blankets and pillows in hand to show the council they want the ordinance repealed.

Harpole said he's not ready to take that type of action, but he is creating a task force to study the issue for the next 60 days. The task force will consist of those opposing the ordinance and a variety of local homeless agencies so all sides can be examined.

Madison Alewel - NewsChannel 10

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