City Council tables updates to public camping ordinance

Published: Mar. 30, 2016 at 2:27 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 18, 2016 at 9:23 PM CDT
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Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Virginia Williams Trice, voting member of the ad hoc subcommittee (Source: KFDA)
Virginia Williams Trice, voting member of the ad hoc subcommittee (Source: KFDA)

AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - An amendment to a city ordinance some feel targets the homeless was presented but not approved by the Amarillo City Council Tuesday evening.

The Amarillo city attorney presented the first reading of Ordinance 7596, which is designed to amend, repeal and replace Ordinance 7333 regarding camping on public property.

The city's legal team suggested clarifying the definitions of several terms, including "camping," "municipal facility," "public property," and "sleep at a place not meant for human habitation."

This updated ordinance removed all references to certain equipment associated with camping, and defined camping as "standing, sitting or lying on public property between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m."

Three main requests put forth by the ad hoc subcommittee formed to help shape this amended ordinance were addressed:

  1. Consider the need for temporary shelter if others are full
  2. Consider the future impacts and continuum of care based on HUD's goals
  3. Clarify the definition of "sleep at a place not meant for human habitation."

Citizens at the meeting were still unclear about the reworded definition of "sleep at a place not meant for human habitation," and one man asked the council if that included airports or city employees working late in public buildings.

Well over a dozen citizens voiced their concerns that the amendments to this ordinance will hurt the homeless population as well.

"I don't think any of us want tent city coming up like we had that was unregulated," said Virginia Williams Trice, a voting member of the ad hoc subcommittee. "I do think that there are other solutions out there that are much more positive in the sense of helping people rather than shoving them under the radar, which is what I feel like this ordinance really does."

The council had reports that there are enough beds to house the city's homeless population.

Several citizens asked if this was the case, why are so many people camping outside?

Williams Trice said many homeless couples, families or people with pets avoid shelters because they do not want to be separated from their loved ones.

She and other citizens informed the city council that some local shelters charge fees after people have stayed there a certain number of days.

This was one of the main reasons the council voted 3-1 to table the ordinance and conduct more research before going onto a second reading.

"I'm hoping that this extra time will give some of the council members time to find more information to see that the ordinance is actually not effective in the way it is, nor in the way that it's been reworded," said Williams Trice."

Mayor Harpole said today the purpose of this ordinance is to protect the public, not harm the homeless.

"I think a lot of people here are working extremely hard not only to work on this ordinance, but really work on solving some of the root problems of homelessness here in the City of Amarillo," said James Allen, Community Development Administrator for the City of Amarillo. "I applaud the community for being involved and I want them to stay involved and I think together we will come up with solutions that will address these issues."

Ordinance 7596 will appear again on the city council agenda when adequate research has been conducted and the council can work to reword the amendments.

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