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Should Johnson City ban camping on public property?

Johnson City Press • Apr 23, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Mark Fulwiler’s story is a familiar one. We found the Air Force veteran curled up at the Pavilion at Founders Park, trying to stay sheltered from the chilly wind on Thursday afternoon. He’d been homeless for nine months and was just trying to get some rest.

A few hours later, the Johnson City Commission took its second step toward making similar naps finable offenses. Approved on second reading, the municipal ordinance would prohibit unauthorized camping on public property, carrying up to a $50 fine.

Fulwiler was not technically in violation of the proposed ordinance, as it defines “camping” as anyone who uses a temporary accommodation, tent or tarp for living accommodation activities.

The ordinance was born from the concerns of downtown business owners and residents about the growing number of people sleeping on city sidewalks, parking lots and properties. One would have to live under a rock not to know that downtown Johnson City has visible homeless inhabitants who set up on public property and in building entrances.

Homeless support advocates have argued against the no-camping ordinance, saying it could punish people in need and further stigmatize homelessness.

As noted by commissioners, our community offers several services to keep homeless people from having to live on the streets, including shelters and soup kitchens. There has been a concerted effort in recent years to help veterans like Fulwiler find living accommodations. But are those services enough?

The no-camping ordinance also could have a profound impact on free speech activities. Cities across the country coped with the question of public property camping during the “Occupy” movement that took hold in 2011.

The commission will take up the ordinance on third and final reading May 3.

We want to hear from you. Should Johnson City ban camping on public property? Or is there a better approach to prevent public slumber and help the homeless find shelter?

Send your comments to [email protected]. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification. Letters must be no longer than 300 words and will be edited for grammar, style and length.

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