Tonight the Johnson City Commission will consider on third and final reading a controversial ordinance that would prohibit camping on public property. City leaders proposed the measure to address “the growing problem of unauthorized camping on city property.”
The proposal specifically would ban the erection of temporary structures — tents, tarps, etc. — for sleeping or preparations for sleep. The ban would apply to any city property not already designated for camping — sidewalks, walking trails, public parks and such.
As Staff Writer Zach Vance has reported, the proposed ordinance has raised the ire of homeless advocates who see it as unfairly targeting and further stigmatizing people in need of assistance.
Our question: Why is this ordinance necessary?
Johnson City already has ordinances that ban loitering in public places, as well as squatting on private property without permission, in sections 110-114 of Chapter 11 in the City Code. Section 111 states:
(1) No person shall loiter in or sit upon any hallway, window ledge or steps leading into any public building, office building, opera house, church or store.
(2) Nor shall any person habitually loiter about any hotel, restaurant, lunch stand, poolroom or other business house, or place of amusement, unless employed therein, or loiter about or upon or along the streets or other public places.
Section 113 goes on to prohibit loitering in or around public places between midnight and 5 a.m., applying to anyone found on the streets or other public places unless the person has “legitimate” reason to be there. Finally, Section 114 prohibits in part interference “with the personal property of another in the city” without consent.
There is no question that the city has a public safety need to keep people from sleeping on the streets, but clearly, the city already has rules in place that should deter people from bedding down on or obstructing public property, business doorways or other unauthorized locations.
Rather than stirring up emotions with this redundant ordinance, city leaders would have done better to work more with agencies toward additional solutions to actually help keep people off the streets. The area’s indigent shelters, faith-based coalitions and homeless advocacy groups work wonders, but there’s still a need for more intervention and support given the number of homeless people found in our city.
There is simply no need to take further aim.