Flagstaff City Council and mayoral candidates have been given the chance to answer a weekly question in no more than 150 words. This week’s question: How do you feel about the camping ordinance and issues of homelessness in Flagstaff?
In 2005, the ordinance went into effect for the purpose of reducing fire risks and that risk still exists. The ordinance is quite compassionate and also a deterrent. It is informative first and uses enforcement as a second step. Also, think about the potential health risk issues. Let’s keep Flagstaff’s parks clean and safe for our kids and grandkids.
I want to thank all the houses of worship, not for profits, business partners and individuals for supporting Flagstaff Shelter Services and other crisis programs. We live and work in an amazing caring/ loving community. Our fire/police teams and other city employees are focused upon the “Do Something” initiative to save lives throughout the year. I encourage your readers to go to www.flagstaff.az.gov/dosomething.
For veterans who may need a home, we have one positive solution. The city will start construction on our veterans home in the spring.
As is, the camping ordinance is a tough issue and I believe it distracts us from discussing real solutions. The camping ordinance criminalizes the homeless. Removing the ordinance discourages individuals experiencing homelessness from seeking help from organizations like Flagstaff Shelter Services, Housing Solutions and Front Door.
After meeting with these organizations, I’ve learned that there are effective solutions for temporary and permanent homelessness, but these organizations need more resources and better access to sustainable housing. There are hundreds of individuals on waiting lists to be served. Many seeking shelter have full-time work in Flagstaff. There are 400 students within FUSD experiencing homelessness. I will work to address the source of this issue, which is housing. The housing bond, Prop 422 would allow the city to help these organizations continue to house our homeless population while negotiating with developers to build more attainable housing.
The 2005 camping ordinance makes it unlawful for any individual to camp on public property, including in public parks, on city streets and sidewalks or any undeveloped land within city limits, unless specifically authorized by law. The ordinance is intended to protect lives, forests, watershed and properties. It’s a Class 3 misdemeanor for people to camp within city limits on public property.
There’s no existing designated public camping area within the city limits. The nearest camping area is at Fort Tuthill. It’s time for the city leadership to consider designating a camping area within the city.
Addressing homelessness, we can strengthen the efforts of organizations like Flagstaff Shelter Services and Catholic Charities. Pursue more public-private partnerships to provide services and assistance to Flagstaff’s homeless citizens. I also support that idea that folks in homeless shelters could be empowered to find jobs and also help out with chores at the shelter.
The anti-camping ordinance currently makes it a misdemeanor offense to sleep in public spaces. Sleeping unto itself should not be a crime. If your car is parked downtown you can get a ticket and a fine. If you’re sleeping in that car, you can get arrested. Why should a vehicle have more rights than a human being?
I understand the negative social side effects this attempts to address. Wildfire prevention, preventing defecation on private property, littering, etc. but we already have laws in place for these issues. And since the anti-camping ordinance was enacted, have we seen more or less of these issues happen?
It seems to me that the situation has gotten worse, not better, so we should ask if this law is actually fulfilling its intended purpose. If we want to reduce these problems I think we should address the root causes of homelessness, not criminalize it.
Criminalizing homelessness is not okay. It perpetuates the plight of those without permanent shelter and does nothing to provide meaningful solutions. We can do better. Yet I also believe that our public safety officers, who are out on our streets keeping us safe each night in good faith, must be legally equipped with the tools and personal discretion they require to carry out their duties effectively and safely.
One way to create a more humane ordinance would be to exclude sleeping activities or the use of vehicles for sleeping, while leaving in place prohibitions that address safety, encampments, carry fire risk, or promote litter, impacting our forests and public spaces.
Our local Flagstaff homeless residents are best served through ample access to social services and tools that can help them get off the streets. Let’s focus there, and amp up public-private partnerships with non-profits and places of worship, for example.
Penalizing homeless people who find themselves sleeping on the streets, in parks and in the forest is, at this time, the effect of our camping ordinance as developed and implemented by the city council. This ordinance is unnecessarily punishing to men, women and children who are left with few to no choices.
We have 500 homeless school children, homeless veterans and other unfortunate people who are without shelter in Flagstaff. To criminalize our fellow brothers, sisters, children and our veterans who risked their lives defending this country is a travesty, an intolerable unkindness of massive proportions.
Proposition 422, the affordable housing bond, makes no mention of assisting our homeless citizens. This is an untenable situation that should be a priority for our city. Using our financial resources to provide more shelter beds in the city, social programs, emotional support and job training for our homeless people must be addressed now.
I supported the camping ordinance when it first came before council and I continue to support it. It has the support of both our police and fire departments, and rarely is so much as a fine even issued. The camping ordinance exists to try and minimize the risk of a catastrophic fire. As climate change worsens and our fire season grows longer, and more dangerous, we need policy that safeguards our town and our forest.
Homelessness is and will continue to be a problem in Flagstaff. The city is committed to assisting those in need and has allocated funding to assist those who are homeless in our city on an annual basis.
Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on twitter @AdrianSkabelund.
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