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Houseless community advocates call on Louisville mayor to veto amendment to encampment ordinance

The changes make it illegal to camp or store personal property in public areas. People could get fines of up to $200 per day for a violation.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As bitter cold temperatures are in the forecast, dozens of houseless community advocates are calling for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer to veto a controversial ordinance passed by Metro Council Thursday night.

It amends Louisville's houseless encampment law, making it illegal to camp or store personal property in public areas -- including sidewalks, curbs, alleys or vacant lots -- or Metro parks. 

Metro Council approved the changes in a 16-8 vote. Those in violation of the law could get fined up to $200 per day.

It's an amendment to a 2018 ordinance that required a 21-day notice to clear camps.

Supporters of the amendment say it's to keep people safe, avoiding obstruction of roadways and issues like needles left out in public parks. But critics, including eight councilmembers, don't feel this is a proactive solution.

"What doesn't help [is] creating more restrictions on camping and telling people where they can't go," said Councilman Jecorey Arthur (D-4), one of eight to vote no on the ordinance. "We need to put all of our resources and our energy into making spaces where people can go."

The outrage has hit social media, reflecting in a petition calling on Mayor Fischer to veto the legislation. As of Friday evening, more than 600 have voiced support online.

The ACLU of Kentucky's Kungu Njuguna says they're pushing hard.

"I think it's the right move he can make before leaving office," he said. "We realize there is an issue the city needs to address, but criminalizing homelessness and taking property from people who are houseless [and] potentially assessing fines doesn't get to the root causes."

Louisville's Coalition for the Homeless is one of many groups who called for councilmembers to table the ordinance until the new administration takes charge, but to no avail.

"Our biggest fear is what is going to happen next Council, when they don't see the results they want from this ordinance? Are they going to come back with more fines or new ways to cite people who have no where to be during the day?" said George Eklund, the education and advocacy director for the coalition.

Meanwhile, ordinance co-sponsor and outgoing Metro Council President David James says he's talked to crews tasked with enforcing these policies in the past. They've told him they need these changes.

"Ultimately it's about land use, equal and equitable land use, and people who'd like to go to the park and be with their children are unable to do so because other people have decided that's where they're going to live and do drugs at," he said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Mayor Fischer's office said the mayor "will review the ordinance once it is received."

The ordinance also gives city officials three days to intervene and relocate individuals before an encampment is considered to be set. That's up from the prior limit of two days.

In addition, the ordinance gives 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.

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.

The council, and democrats, have been split on the issue, but it passed 16-8.

Previously, Police Chief Erika Shields suggested the city's houseless outreach help enforce the ordinance while Councilwoman Cindi Fowler suggested codes and regulations.

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