EBR councilmembers propose law banning homeless encampments in public areas
BATON ROUGE - Councilmembers have introduced an ordinance that prohibits camping in a public area in an apparent effort to crack down on the area's homeless population.
“Seventy three percent of the mayors across the country are experiencing issues with homelessness,” explained the city-parish’s Chief Administrator Darryl Gissel.
This includes Baton Rouge.
“It's gotten to be a nationwide epidemic, so the big issue is how do we deal with it in a legal way and a compassionate way,” Gissel said.
Item four on the agenda defines camp as using public spaces for these reasons:
(a) storing personal belongings; (b) making a campfire; (c) using a tent or shelter or other structure for a living accommodation; (d) carrying on cooking activities; or (e) digging or earth breaking activities.
“We do see it as an issue. The issue has gotten worse post COVID, post the pandemic, and again we're really trying to go through the data on why are people here,” Gissel said.
According to Gissel, more than half of the homeless population in the city are not from here.
“We've seen that uptick. We know that people are here from other areas. Our estimate is that over 50 percent of the people who we find who are on the street in many cases are not from Baton Rouge,” he said.
So how would this new law be enforced? There's two penalties: either a person is fined $200, put in jail, or both.
“When law enforcement asks people to move and explains they can't remain there. They've actually moved. I think we've only had one episode where somebody refused to cooperate and then we clean up the area,” he explained.
The chief administrator explained how Baton Rouge currently deals with homeless sites.
“We have teams, which we call 'hot teams.' They go out twice a week, one made up of police officers, one made up of sheriff's deputies depending on the area of the city. They're specially trained to deal with people who are in encampments or homeless and in addition to law enforcement. We have a group of mental health and social workers who try to direct people to housing,” Gissel said.
The proposal was only introduced at Wednesday's meeting. It's scheduled to be discussed and voted on at the June 22 meeting.
To view the proposal, check here.
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