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'There's no difference between you and the people unhoused next door to you': Louisville sees controversy over houseless ordinance

The amendment would create fines for Louisvillians experiencing houselessness.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Coalition for the Homeless called on Metro Council to oppose a new ordinance amendment aimed at changing how Louisville deals with people camping out and storing their property in public.

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, activists with several organizations spoke on the topic, calling the ordinance inhumane.

Donny Greene, co-founder of Feed Louisville, said everyone is the same people.

"There's no difference between you and the people unhoused next door to you," Greene said.

One activist with VOCAL-KY, who used to live on the streets for years, said penalizing the poor isn’t going to fix the issue, affordable housing will.

"As outreach workers, my team sees the damaging effect it has on a person who already has severe trauma and is at their lowest to have their possessions thrown away," T.J. Martin, with the John Center, said.

The original ordinance passed with almost unanimous support in 2018, with a vote of 20-2. It required a 21-day notice before clearing camps.

Amendments to this ordinance would make it illegal to camp in public areas, with fines of up to $200 per day for a violation. 

In addition, this ordinance would make it illegal to store personal property, and would give metro government authority to dispose of items not picked up within 30 days of an encampment clearing. The items could be disposed of immediately if in areas considered permanently off-limits.

At a council meeting Thursday, bill sponsor Councilmember Nicole George (D-21) said she's seen the effects encampments have had in her district.

"It carries specific health consequences and elevated risks," she said. "Consider the single mom who's trying to push her child in a stroller to the bus stop, the young person who's headed to the school bus stop, the person in a wheelchair trying to navigate the sidewalk."

Bill-sponsor Council President David James said he’s heard stories of terrible living conditions because of encampments.

“We have citizens, many of which are in a compromised situation already, that cannot let their children go outside because of camping in the sidewalk in the front of their house, because syringes are laying there in the sidewalk in the front of their house, because feces is laying there on the sidewalk in the front of their house, because parks are filled with syringes and feces and trash from camp sites and their children cannot play in our parks because they’re no longer safe," James said.

Metro government has been working to transition those who are living on the street to more stable housing with the safe outdoor space, Hope Village.

American Rescue Plan funds helped the project open up back in April. The space can house up to 53 people right now, but project leaders said they are hoping to expand.

Over a year ago, city officials shared a four-phase plan for addressing the city's houselessness.

They said their ultimate goal is to get anyone experiencing houselessness off the street, but they said its quite difficult because when it comes to houselessness, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The four phases include:

  • establishing an area that provides a safe space outdoors with services designed to help people experiencing houselessness find sustainable housing
  • transitional housing effort that offers a quick transition from outdoor to indoor housing
  • partnership with service providers to develop more permanent supportive housing options
  • increased funding for affordable housing.

Councilmember Jecorey Arthur (D-4, in the council meeting Thursday, said he'd hope for more data stemming from last year before moving on an ordinance addressing houselessness.

The ordinance will be discussed again on Oct. 6.

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