Metro Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9, filed an ordinance on Monday seeking to require the city to give proper notice to the inhabitants of homeless camps before such sites are cleared, in addition to temporarily storing personal items of value that are left behind during a sweep.

Natalie Harris, the executive director of Louisville’s Coalition for the Homeless, tells Insider Louisville that she reached to Hollander about the need for such an ordinance after the city cleared a homeless camp of 20 people underneath I-64 at 12th Street near the Ohio River in October. There were disagreements over whether notification was given to the homeless people who lived there, with advocates saying that their camping paraphernalia and personal items were all destroyed by the city workers who cleared the camp.

Hollander’s proposed ordinance states that “persons experiencing homelessness should be entitled to protection from arbitrary and capricious treatment by local government.” It then goes on to codify a system in which the city may not displace a person from such a camp until it has given at least 21 days’ notice to the homeless persons living in the camp and to the Coalition for the Homeless. Upon receiving this notice, the Coalition of the Homeless is to notify all of the community organizations serving the homeless to offer assistance with transitional or permanent housing.

The proposed ordinance says if a homeless person is displaced, the Department of Public Works and Assets must maintain any of that person’s personal property that is left behind and has apparent utility in a safe and secure place for 30 days, with a notice posted at that site stating where such items can be retrieved. Such personal items are to include identification documents and birth certificates.

Though setting up a notification system, the ordinance adds that if the health department makes a written notification that an emergency exists, it may give “whatever notice is reasonable under the circumstances.” Additionally, this notice system shall not apply to locations where “permanent, conspicuous notices are posted that camps are not allowed, and that personal property is subject to be removed immediately and where removal of such items occurs on a regular basis.”

Natalie Harris | Courtesy Coalition for the Homeless

Harris told IL that the ordinance would mostly codify notification policies that the Louisville Metro Police Department already had in effect in certain divisions, but would make them uniform citywide. She added that Hollander picked up the new section requiring city workers to keep and store personal items of value from an ordinance that exists in Indianapolis.

Noting that the location of homeless camps in Louisville have shifted since construction first started on the Ohio River Bridges Project, Harris added that this will only continue “as the economy is doing really well and lots of new things are getting developed. So it’s like, ‘you can’t go there anymore and you can’t go there anymore.’ I think that’s only going to increase as we build soccer stadiums and botanical gardens and lots of other things.”

One of the city’s large homeless camps is located in the middle of the Butchertown property that is slated to be part of the $200 million soccer stadium district. This camp — which is mostly hidden away and rarely cleared by the city — will eventually have to be removed once construction begins, but as far as Harris knows it is still standing. There are also homeless camps in the wooded areas off River Road, near where the Waterfront Botanical Gardens project is slated to go.

Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9

Harris says that Hollander’s ordinance is “pretty uncontroversial,” adding that LMPD collaborated on it and she hasn’t heard of anyone who is opposed to the legislation. The ordinance is expected to be taken up in the Public Safety Committee in two weeks.

In the most recent homeless count by service providers in Louisville last year, 6,373 unduplicated homeless people were found to either stay in emergency shelters or outside in the streets or in camps.

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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