Task force approved for ordinance 7333, prohibiting overnight camping on public property

Task force approved for ordinance 7333, prohibiting overnight camping on public property

Amarillo, TX -  After weeks of trying, protesters showed up to Tuesday night's city council meeting to discuss ordinance 7333 with city councilors. This law prohibits people from camping on public property overnight.

While many of these protesters would like to see this law appealed, Tuesday night's discussion was a step in the right direction.

"We don't need to end this, we need to continue to look at better ways to do anything in this city and maybe we can discover that, but not to dismiss this and walk away from it thinking we've solved the problem," said Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole.

City leaders agreed to set up a subcommittee to look at an ordinance that was passed three years ago in response to the formation of a so-called tent city.

"There's a necessity to look at all aspects of this," said Harpole. "This isn't even a two sided coin, this is more like a 6 sided box, there's lots of different aspects to look at."

The subcommittee will consist of different homeless organizations, law enforcement, residents, and churches to study this issue for 60 days. Although many are glad this discussion is taking place, others say 60 days is too long for a solution.

"That's going to put us in February, and so for the months of December and January, what are the homeless to do? what's going to happen?" said subcommittee member, Grant Reyher.

The wait may be worth it if clarification comes after the 60 day period. Many residents say they are mainly hoping for a clearer understanding of what this ordinance means.

"The main problem with this ordinance is the wording," said protesters Georgia Romig.

Many thought the definition of camping consist of having a blanket, but the council says blankets do not constitute as camping under the ordinance.

City officials say the most a person can pay for the Class C Misdemeanor is $500 and the lowest is $266. Since 2012, there have only been five citations for this law with only one resulting in a fine.

Others expressed that they hope the subcommittee will look at whether or not the police verbally abuse the homeless and if getting rid of this ordinance will affect funding for homeless services.

Chief Robert Taylor with the Amarillo Police Department spoke at the city council meeting about how they have six special trained officers to help people in the community who have mental health issues, which may include the homeless. These officers are also suppose to offer rides to shelters.

The 60 days will start after all members of the committee are picked, the mayor hopes to make that happen within the next week.

All of the protesters showed up with well over 100 blankets, along with hats, scarfs, gloves, and socks to donate to the homeless.