Concerns about an increasing homeless population have prompted officials in New Smyrna Beach to adopt an ordinance that provides law enforcement with better tools to address “camping” in public parks.
Ordinance No. 33-21, which was approved by the City Commission by a 4-0 vote Aug. 24, provides a detailed definition of illegal “camping” in public parks that includes anyone “in a state of temporary shelter,” who “volunteers that he or she has no other place to live and is in a state of homelessness.”
In February commissioners asked City Manager Khalid Resheidat to explore steps to address growing concerns with homelessness in New Smyrna Beach. Mr. Resheidat, with input from local residents, businesses and churches that work with the homeless, drafted a plan to provide “temporary transitional housing facilities” for individuals and families “that have been displaced from their homes and are in need of shelter.”
An ordinance that would have opened the door to establishing a homeless shelter in the city was voted down by the commission in May. While none of the commissioners supported moving forward with a shelter in the city, each spoke of the need to do something to address issues caused by a growing homeless population.
The lack of an available “safe zone” or shelter for homeless persons is one issue that has frustrated the city’s efforts to discourage the type of camping activity addressed by the new ordinance. The report prepared by the city attorney’s office and presented at the Aug. 24 commission meeting explains the new ordinance “is unenforceable” if the city does not offer the homeless an alternative to camping in public spaces.
The ordinance explains that enforcement of the camping rules require homeless persons “be given an opportunity to enter a homeless shelter or similar facility.” Only after the opportunity is given and refused can “a trespass warning, citation or arrest may be made.”
According to City Manager Resheidat, NSB will be offering The Bridge in DeLand as an alternative to homeless persons found camping in NSB parks. The Bridge, at 421 S. Palmetto Ave., provides support services that include emergency shelter, meals, showers and laundry facilities.
The new ordinance is clear that “merely sleeping” in a park is not enough to prompt police action. It provides four other criteria, one or more of which must also be exhibited for the activity to be considered “camping.” They are:
•Being “inside, on or near a tent or sleeping bag, or asleep atop or covered by materials (i.e., bedroom, cardboard, newspapers) or inside some form of temporary shelter”
•Being near a campfire
•“Bathing, shaving or washing clothes in or from public restrooms or other public areas,
•Offering information that indicates a state of homelessness
The ordinance also empowers the city manager to update signs placed in public parks to include language prohibiting “bathing, shaving or washing clothes in or from public restrooms or splash pad area.”
Following the vote on the ordinance, Commissioner Michael Kolody commented on the importance of the new provisions to the city’s efforts to address homelessness. “Everybody thinks it’s an issue you can solve real quickly,” Commissioner Kolody said. “Staff and police department have been working hard on this and we’re trying to keep up with them and provide them the tools for it.”
Police officers are usually the first response to homelessness, but that isn't really their job, Mayor Russ Owen said. “This gives us the tools to have the officers start directing and enforcing folks to get to the facilities where they can get the help that they need.”
No public comments on the camping ordinance were offered during the meeting.
The city commission also conducted the first public reading of an ordinance that would broaden the list of public spaces in which the new camping rules would apply. Ordinance No. 43-21 provides the camping rules apply to activities conducted on all “public property.” The city report on the ordinance explains “there are other public spaces, such as streets and sidewalks,” that should have the same protections now extended to public parks. The ordinance will be presented for a second public reading and public hearing during the commission’s Sept. 14 meeting.