The Fayetteville City Council on Monday accepted a report from the Homeless Encampment Task Force regarding tent cities and directed staff members to come back with improvements to its current camping ordinance.
“I want to see this and see it through,” Councilwoman Shakeyla Ingram said.
“The conversation we had tonight is one we’ve needed to have,” City Manager Doug Hewett said. “It has always been a concern. What we’re doing as a city is not working. The current approach is not working. This is not our effort to send anyone out of the city of Fayetteville.”
Hewett said the current council has done more for the homeless than any other council he could think of.
“I don’t think anybody on this (council) is saying we’re not compassionate … We have to join our peers in Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Wilmington, Winston-Salem in putting in additional restrictions about what you can do in that area we call right of way," Mayor Mitch Colvin said.
“Fifteen feet, 20 feet. Whatever it is,” Colvin said, “it’s not a good place to sleep in a camp and set up living quarters. That is what this is. We are not saying we’re not doing all that we can.”
The mayor noted how the city is funding what it can in the homeless day center and giving people resources.
"We’re just talking about is it safe for people to continue to lay their head by the side of the highway where cars go 50, 60 and 70 miles an hour," he said. "That’s not a long-term sustainable solution for it.”
Members of the city’s community development department and the legal staff were asked what the city could do in terms of the homeless encampments. Monday night’s discussion was about setting rules and establishing conditions in a public space.
The Homeless Encampment Task Force was established to research, analyze, develop, recommend and implement a framework to address homeless encampments in the city. The group was asked to identify solutions to address homeless encampments.
The group also was asked to create a protocol to standardize the actions of employees when they engage a person experiencing homelessness and to create a sustainable solution to reinforce the recommendations of the task force.
“We’re really not doing them a favor by turning the other way and not bringing services to people camping at the side of the road,” Colvin said. “Let’s not turn this into an issue whether we care or not because I think everybody on here cares about the outcome of these people. What we’re talking about now is setting the rules and conditions as to what happens in that space which is deemed public space in our community.”
Councilman Johnny Dawkins asked if a revised ordinance would have an impact on those who camp on state Department of Transportation property.
“No,’’ said Brook Redding, a senior project manager in the city manager’s office.
Assistant City Attorney Lisa Harper said the current camping ordinance prohibits overnight camping at parks and cemeteries while leaving other venues open. As currently written, it does not prohibit camping on private property or city-owned property, other than cemeteries and parks.
“You can also narrow the ordinance or expand the ordinance,” Harper told the council. “I told you it regulates on private property; it regulates on city-owned property and vehicles. You don’t have to regulate all that if council chooses not to. You can say, 'We think it’s expanded too far. Bring it in some.' But the ordinance as it stands now – there is not a tool that the city can use to enforce any type of camping on city-owned property unless it is in a park or a cemetery.”
Redding said city staff members had been looking at this issue for nearly a year.
"It is a big piece. Just where do they go?" Councilman D.J. Haire asked in terms of having the homeless vacate where they stay. "We just don't have all the answers. This is a hard piece for us. This is a hard area to improve."
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.