Louisville Council Member Wants To Enhance Protections For The Houseless With Two New Ordinances

Aug 25, 2021 at 6:09 pm
People lining up outside the St. John Center for Homeless Men in January of 2021  |  Photo by Kathryn Harrington
People lining up outside the St. John Center for Homeless Men in January of 2021 | Photo by Kathryn Harrington

Council member Jecorey Arthur filed two new ordinances on Monday to increase protections for people who are houseless in Louisville. 

The first would fold people who are houseless into the city’s bias-related crime statutes, increasing penalties for those who commit crimes against them. 

The second would amend the city’s Homeless Protection Ordinance, so that the city must conduct a risk assessment of a homeless camp before clearing it. The city already started using a risk assessment tool in July, but Arthur's ordinance would codify it.

 “As long as there are people who don't have their basic needs met, I do not believe that our city will will get any better,” said Arthur. “It won't progress. There won't be anything for anyone unless the people at the very bottom are taken care of.”

Arthur started working on the first ordinance during his council campaign, the District 4 council member says. The story of Freddie Baker inspired him: Baker was a houseless person who was stabbed to death in 2015. The convicted murderer, Christopher Winstead Jr., was recorded on a phone call telling a friend that he was looking for “a homeless guy walking down the street” before he discovered and killed Baker. 

Arthur learned about Baker on a ghost tour. 

“Hearing his story really messed me up,” he said. 

If Arthur’s first ordinance passes, it could tack on a civil penalty and a misdemeanor for those who commit a crime against a person in Louisville based on their housing status. The city’s bias-related crimes already protect people based on their race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation and ethnicity. 

Someone would already have to have a criminal case filed against them for the process to begin. The city’s Human Relations Commission would investigate the case and make a determination.

Arthur said he hopes the ordinance communicates to people who are houseless that they have rights.

 “Enhancing the punishment, means we enhance the protection,” he said, “which means people are aware, ‘Oh actually I do have rights. Oh, actually I do have property. It might not be a house, or it might not be land like you have, but I have this tent on this public land, and everything in this tent and around this tent belongs to me and you cannot kick it, you cannot throw anything at it.’”

Arthur’s other ordinance will add to the city’s Homeless Protection Ordinance, which was sponsored by council member Bill Hollander in 2018, and which mandated that the city should provide a 21-day notice before clearing a homeless encampment. 

Arthur wanted to introduce his additions to the ordinance back in March after the city cleared an encampment between downtown and NuLu before the 21-day notice was up. Instead, he ended up fighting an amendment from another council member  — Cindi Fowler. She wanted to remove camps around schools and child care facilities more quickly than the 21-day notice currently required by the city. She dropped support of her ordinance, with Arthur’s additions, last week. Fowler did not respond to an email for comment. 

If Arthur’s ordinance is passed, the city won’t be able to issue a 21-day notice unless the camp undergoes a risk assessment by the city, measuring the camp’s risk to public health or safety and the camp’s relationship to its neighbors. 

“So the new ordinance, if we pass it, when we pass it, will be crystal clear about decisions about encampments being made based on a risk assessment. Not how many neighbors call, not how rich and powerful someone is who might call, not anything other than a risk assessment that measures how that encampment is maintaining in terms of health issues and concerns, how it interacts with surrounding neighbors,” said Arthur.

The risk assessment will be conducted within 10 days of the city’s Department of Resiliency and Community Services receiving notification of the encampment. 

The risk assessment findings will be shared with the impacted neighbors and neighborhoods, as well as the council member of the area where the camp is located. 

Arthur has advocated for other changes in the city to protect people who are homeless.

Arthur is also pushing for half of the city’s $340 million in American Rescue Plan money to go to affordable housing and homelessness. It’s already been identified as a top financial priority for the ARP funds by both the council and Mayor Greg Fischer.

Arthur is also supportive of the city’s new Safe Outdoor Space, which will give people who are houseless a government-sanctioned place to camp. It’s part of a new, Metro strategy for addressing homelessness in Louisville, championed by Greg Fischer. Metro Louisville is also working on identifying transitional indoor housing (possibly in a hotel) and more permanent supportive housing options, as well as increasing funding for affordable housing.