BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The East Baton Rouge Metro Council defer the vote on an ordinance that would make camping on public property illegal for another two weeks.
At Wednesday’s meeting, one council member said more time is needed to rewrite the ordinance’s language, while another council member said the council needs to look further into the legality.
“It’s really an unsafe place to have encampments. So, this is quality of place item, the safety of the place item. But, also an item meant to be to help drive people to the services,” said Councilmember Dwight Hudson, who proposed the ordinance.
Members from the Baton Rouge Police Department said if the ordinance is passed this would be a misdemeanor, but there’s no way to enforce this. A legal counsel from the parish said an ordinance that attempts to ban public camping is unconstitutional.
“When you issue a homeless person a summons you have to put an address and obviously you don’t have an address, there’s no way to contact them if they don’t show up in court,” said BRPD Sgt. Vanpheng Nitchin.
Nitchin said those experiencing homelessness will also not be able to pay any fines.
Some nonprofit organizations said if the ordinance passes, this will directly impact the homeless community. Leaders with It Takes a Village BR said shelters are constantly at capacity and people will have no place to go.
Tiffany Simpson with It Takes a Village BR said many dealing with homelessness refuse resources because of mental illnesses.
“Every time we criminalize homelessness, we make it that much harder for someone who may qualify for a service to actually get it,” she said.
President of St. Vincent De Paul Micheal Acaldo said the family and women’s shelter is at capacity nearly year-round. He hopes if the ordinance passes it will influence more people to get help.
“We really want to get people into affordable permanent housing as quickly as possible,” said Acaldo. “What we hope our outcome is people seek the assistance they need.”
Frank Ferdiand is experiencing homelessness after his home caught on fire. He said he understands why people camp out and not everyone is comfortable with resources.
“You got to do something for the people, just can’t put them out. You got a lot of people, it’s mental out there, all you got to do is talk to them,” said Ferdiand.
Some Metro Council members said they want to find a solution that many see as a problem.
“I am not in favor of tents on the side of my house,” said Darryl Hurst, District 5 council member. “And I am not in favor of fining private citizens for people camping out on their property either so let me make that clear. But what I am in favor of is finding solutions.”
Members of the public also expressed concerns about youth facing homelessness, substance abuse, and the lack of resources for mental health.
The council also introduced a proposal to give up to half a million dollars for a rapid rehousing program aimed to help the homeless population. They will vote on a housing proposal and camping ordinance in two weeks.