Task force asks Tucker City Council to strike arrest provision from urban camping ordinance

FILE PHOTOS: Natasha Tyson, RN-BSN, from Mercy Care checks Kelvin Scott’s temperature before he can enter a van for transport to a local hotel. Photo by Dean Hesse

Tucker, GA — Tucker’s city council on Feb. 22 used a work session to discuss an ordinance to ban urban camping, based on feedback from community leaders and experts.

The urban camping ordinance would primarily affect homeless people living in Tucker’s city limits.

The ordinance defines urban camping as any living arrangement, sleeping, cooking or storage of personal property in a public place.

The first read of the ordinance was Feb. 8, when time ran out for the large number of residents who came to speak in opposition. A motion by Councilmember Noelle Monferdini to table the ordinance until March 22 was split in a 3-3 vote.

Just two days later on Feb. 10, Councilmembers Monferdini, Pat Soltys and Matt Robbins held a task force meeting with 30 city officials and experts on food insecurity, social work and the homeless community.

In a 12-page letter to City Council — submitted hours before the work session – the task force asked for council members to gather data about the depth and breadth of chronic homelessness in Tucker to inform the city why an ordinance is warranted. Short term solutions are needed to support our unsheltered neighbors, the letter said, suggesting a temporary shelter space until more permanent solutions can be addressed.

First and foremost was a request to remove the threat of arrest from the ordinance.

Soltys spoke first, stating that the ordinance “is not a criminalization of homelessness. And I can’t say that more strongly. It has nothing to do with the state of living. It has to do with where the living takes place.”

“We have an obligation as a city to make sure we do not allow situations to exist, or to become greater … we are not a social entity as a city. We cannot be expected to provide social services. We can do everything we can to promote, to be able to support, to be able to make sure [services] are known,” she said, noting the city has the job of keeping all citizens safe.

She also suggested Tucker consider create affordable housing options to accommodate residents as the city grows.

The letter stated, “While the City cannot provide direct services, there is citizen interest in the City providing some ‘backbone’ convener/facilitator support to coordinate the various groups and volunteers together. The citizens in the working group and many others who could not make this first meeting desire to continue meeting and working together to address this issue and it will take more than one meeting.”

City Councilmember Anne Lerner said Tucker needs to have a way to protect public property that the city has been improving, like trails and sidewalks.

“We also need to have a way to protect our property as well, to make sure it is inviting and safe for all people,” she said.

Lt. D.G. Schoeppner, Tucker’s liaison to the DeKalb County Police Department, answered questions about urban campers’ possessions and pets in case of arrest. He said household and personal possessions are kept at the jail or in the property room at the police station.

Council members plan to submit changes to city staff. A second read was not scheduled.

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