BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The East Baton Rouge Metro Council passed an ordinance Wednesday that will create more strict penalties for those experiencing homelessness.

Community members pleaded with the council to find a solution to the growing population without a permanent home. Some say they are concerned with their safety.

“It’s the constant drug use,” said one resident. “He still had his needle out of his arm and foaming out his mouth and I had to explain to my nine-year-old niece what was wrong with that man. And that’s when I said enough is enough.”

For months some councilmembers said this law is not about criminalizing the homeless but about safety concerns.

“When you do have them sitting on the side of the road doing drugs and throwing their needles. That’s health issues, that’s a safety issue,” said Councilwoman Denise Amoroso.

The ordinance, which passed Wednesday in a 5 to 7 vote, states you will not be imprisoned for public camping but you will face fines up to $200 or public service time. Police will be responsible for guiding people to proper resources.

Councilman Cleve Dunn voted against the ordinance after the city says the parish has twice as many people experiencing homelessness than beds.

“If you don’t have adequate space, the ordinance can be deemed unconstitutional,” said Dunn.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome says she is not happy with the council’s decision. Broome provided the following statement:

“Mayors Office is concerned that this is a step in the wrong direction. We understand council members felt the need to do something to address the unprecedented levels of homelessness we have in East Baton Rouge Parish since the pandemic. We are committed to re-doubling our efforts with our Homelessness Prevention Coalition, and include council members in that process.”

Mayor Broome says the following initiatives and funds allocated aim to combat homelessness in Baton Rouge:

  • Created BR HOT Team in partnership with law enforcement and public health professionals to meet homeless individuals where they are and connect them to resources.
  • Provided over $46 million federal funds to families facing eviction or homelessness through Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
  • Dedicate $500,000 federal funds to YWCA, which supports rapidly re-housing after financial emergencies.
  • Expand shelter access and services, providing St. Vincent de Paul $1 million to expand capacity and $2 million to other organizations to provide services.

The council also expanded the current moratorium on new developments for another six months.