What’s next for the city’s homeless people? Maybe Metro City Council will pass an ordinance to buy them one-way bus tickets out of town. Is riding someone out of town on a rail still a thing, because that would fit the city’s strategy for making sure people are not sleeping on the streets and panhandling on corners.
Consider how the city has handled this lately.
Last week, the council public safety committee passed an ordinance that would fine panhandlers on street corners as much as $250 if they approach vehicles to retrieve cash. It could come up for a full council vote Thursday.
At the same time, the city has continued its policy of clearing out homeless encampments, at least eight of them around downtown in recent months. No plans have been announced for what should happen to these people and where they should go.
Please remember — they are people.
Last winter, the council waited until the coldest days of the year to suddenly realize that people were still sleeping outside and might die, so it suddenly found surplus money to create low-barrier shelters for those who could not get into other shelters.
Too little, too…
And, now the grand and august Council President David James has sent a message to his constituents that says, in part: “Please report all homeless camps to Metro311. When reporting, be sure to describe the encampment, describe the filth, and give an address or best location. … We understand that this challenging issue will not be solved overnight, but we can all take part in working towards a solution.”
Again, these are people. What is your solution? Pushing them onto the streets and then out of the city? (See: one-way bus ticket.)
Louisville might want to be careful when clearing camps. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in April affirmed that cities such as Boise cannot prevent people from sleeping on public property because, as one judge, wrote, “people with no place to live will sleep outside if they have no alternative. Taking them to jail for a few days is both unconstitutional … and, in all likelihood, pointless.” This ruling applies to only Western states — for now.
Yet, a $50,000, UofL study commissioned by the city and released in June said: “If, in light of current shelter options, every homeless Louisvillian decided tomorrow to seek shelter, they could not feasibly do so: The number of shelter beds available locally can only accommodate 67% of the known people experiencing homelessness in Jefferson County.”
To help with that, the study asked that the city prioritize affordable housing, especially for poor households, such as a family of four living on $25,100. “Across all sources, one salient finding recurred repeatedly: the only permanent solution to homelessness is housing.” (Emphasis not added.)
Instead, it appears the city’s latest genius move is an ordinance to fine people who approach vehicles. It was sold ostensibly as a way to cut down on pedestrian fatalities, but one council member conceded to the Courier Journal that it was also aimed at panhandlers. “I do think they can create distractions, but they’re not the primary reason,” Councilman Pat Mulvihill, D-12th District, a sponsor, said.
Lexington has a similar law that prohibits people from walking onto streets to get money on more than 70 streets there and highway medians.
Does anyone really believe that someone who lives outside has enough money to pay such a fine? What about those charities that clog up intersections with their buckets? They seem more of a danger. Apparently, the new ordinance would not interfere with such activity.
Perhaps most absurd — how can the city press new rules for pedestrians when it cannot enforce basic laws for drivers, such as signaling before turning and stopping at red lights?
This proposed ordinance smacks of the misguided, racist so-called War on Drugs, in which we tried to solve a national health epidemic (drug use) by criminalizing it and sending people (mostly poor and minority) to prison (among them privately run prisons that contributed to politicians). Does Jefferson County have enough room in its jail or Kentucky in its prisons to hold all the homeless people?
Back to Councilman James. His off-tone note makes us wonder why the council seems to be ignoring the UofL study, a road map for addressing the homelessness issue in a humane way and instead is clearing camps. The study asks that the city “shift focus from clearing to providing needed services, including hygiene facilities and housing assistance.”
“Most often, authorities break up one camp only to see many of its residents simply relocate elsewhere, sometimes only a few blocks away.”
Maybe when it gets cold, really cold, this winter, the council will find surplus money for… one-way bus tickets to relocate them out of the city. •