Something needs to be done about homeless people sleeping on sidewalks during the day, and leaving their belongings on sidewalks. The City of Salem has come up with a proposed approach that seems quite reasonable.
Because there's been discussion on Facebook and elsewhere that this amounts to a criminalization of being homeless -- which isn't true -- I'm hoping that people will educate themselves about the proposed ordinance before rejecting it as a bad idea.
Below I've copied in the questions and answers from a City of Salem web page, "Salem responds to growing concerns of activities in public right of way, including sidewalks and parking strips." I've also copied in the Findings section of the proposed ordinance.
[Note: I don't see the language/details in the first question and answer below in the proposed ordinance. Perhaps this is an oversight and the proposed restrictions will be added later, as currently the Findings section is the only substantive part of the draft ordinance.]
I'm curious to learn what, specifically, homeless advocates might find objectionable in the following descriptions of the proposed ordinance and the Findings that provide the rationale for the ordinance. Personally, I don't find much, if anything, that strikes me as a bad idea.
Yes, before implementing the ordinance City officials need to make sure that there's a safe place for homeless people to store their belongings during the day. This seems to be a key to making the ordinance work.
1. What does the proposed City of Salem Sidewalks and Public Space Ordinance restrict?
- Sleeping or laying on the sidewalk during the day, from the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Erecting “campsites” on the sidewalk all day or all night.
- Leaving personal property unattended on the sidewalk all day or night for more than 24 hours.
2. What is the purpose of the proposed Sidewalks and Public Space Ordinance?
- Keeping sidewalks and public spaces clean helps the overall appearance and vitality of city, particularly in commercial areas. Business owners, their employees, and their patrons may also feel more safe using the sidewalks in all areas of the city.
- With the ordinance in place, Salem Police can make contact with those in need and help direct them to the appropriate shelters or service. It also gives Salem Police a tool to use when unsightly and unsanitary temporary structures are being used on the sidewalks, or when individuals establish a presence or camp in front of a business that detracts from or deters visitors to the business through their behavior, trash, or waste.
3. Are there exceptions or times where sidewalks and public spaces could be used to set up temporary seating?
- If enacted, the ordinance allows for medical emergencies, seating for persons with physical disabilities, strollers, sidewalk cafes, attending a parade or other special event, sitting in a chair or bench, waiting for the bus, or other City-permitted activity.
4. Does the proposed Sidewalks and Public Spaces Ordinance cover the entire city or just downtown?
- If approved, the proposed ordinance would apply to the entire city.
5. Does the proposed Sidewalks and Public Spaces Ordinance apply to everyone?
- Yes. All laws must be applied and enforced uniformly.
6. If homeless individuals can't sit on the sidewalk during the day, where will they go?
- Over the past several years, due to the City Council's priority of addressing our community's homeless, a variety of options are available for food, shelter, storage, and other personal needs.
- Available services include Arches, Union Gospel Mission, Salvation Army, parks and city benches, or churches or social service agencies who allow such activity.
7. Can offenders be jailed?
- Not for simply being in violation of the conduct regulated by the ordinance.
- Repeat violations can lead to an exclusion order. Violation of an exclusion order can lead to a citation for trespass, which carries criminal sanction and possibly jail.
8. What about Boise?
- This ordinance was written based on the 9th Circuit's decision in Martin v. City of Boise and complies with the outcome of that case.
- See the Idaho news article for more information.
9. What about the City of Portland case?
- The City of Portland enacted a similar ordinance several years ago, that an Oregon circuit court judge invalidated because it was found in conflict with an Oregon criminal law for pedestrian interference.
- The proposed Sidewalks and Public Spaces Ordinance avoids this issue by: 1) not imposing criminal sanctions (no jail) and 2) specifically addressing appearance and enhancement of community vitality. This ordinance is not directed at preserving physical pedestrian access or public safety.
Section 2. Findings.
(a) The City of Salem is a geographically diverse city, largely comprised of residential, commercial, and industrial areas.
(b) Maintaining pedestrian and authorized commercial activity on public sidewalks is essential to public safety and welfare, thriving neighborhoods, and economic vitality within the city.
(c) Sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk, camping, or leaving personal property unattended on a public sidewalk, is not the ordinary, customary, or intended use of a public sidewalk.
(d) The need to maintain pedestrian and commercial traffic is greatest during the customary hours of operation of businesses, shops, restaurants, and other public and private enterprises, services, and activities within the city, when public sidewalks are in greatest use, and when city residents are most likely to use their neighborhood sidewalks.
(e) Persons who sit or lie down on public sidewalks, camp, or who leave personal property unattended on public sidewalks, during customary business hours threaten the safety and welfare of all pedestrians, with the greatest impact on those pedestrians who are elderly, young children, or who have physical and mental disabilities.
(f) Persons who sit or lie down on public sidewalks, camp, or who leave personal property unattended on public sidewalks, deter city residents and visitors from patronizing local shops, restaurants, and businesses, and enterprises, and from utilizing public and private services, and activities within the city, and deter people from using the sidewalks in their neighborhoods, with the greatest impact occurring during customary business hours.
(g) Persons siting or laying on public sidewalks, camping, or the accumulation of trash and personal property unattended on public sidewalks, is detrimental to pedestrian safety, public welfare and the economic vitality of the community, with the greatest impact occurring during customary business hours. This behavior causes a cycle of decline as residents and tourists go elsewhere to walk, meet, shop, dine, and access other services and activities, and residents become intimidated from using the public sidewalks in their own neighborhoods.
(h) Sitting or lying down, camping, or leaving personal property unattended, is an incompatible and detrimental use of the public sidewalks in all areas of the city.
(i) The people of the City of Salem promote policies that preserve the right to enjoy public spaces and to traverse freely, while protecting free-speech rights, as well as other safe activity consistent with city ordinances and permitting requirements.
(j) The prohibitions against sitting or lying down on public sidewalks, camping, or leaving personal property unattended on public sidewalks, contained in this ordinance leaves fully intact the right to speak, protest, or engage in other lawful activity on any public sidewalk consistent with city ordinances and permitting requirements.
(k) The prohibition against sitting or lying down on public sidewalks, or leaving personal property unattended on public sidewalks, contained in this ordinance, apply only to public sidewalks. There are numerous places within the city where the restrictions of this ordinance do not apply, including private property, public benches, private seating areas of sidewalk cafés, non-sidewalk areas of public parks, public plazas, and other non- sidewalk common areas open to the public.
(l) The prohibition against sitting or lying down on public sidewalks contained in this ordinance contains exceptions for medical emergencies, persons in wheelchairs, and permitted activities, among others.
(m) The City of Salem desires to help persons in need to obtain services. In order to provide persons sitting or lying down on public sidewalks, or camping, the opportunity to obtain referrals to appropriate service entities, a peace officer may not issue a citation without first warning the person that sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk during certain hours is unlawful.
(n) The City of Salem desires to provide persons an opportunity to remove their personal property from public sidewalks on their own. Prior to removing unattended personal property from a public sidewalk in accordance with the provisions of this ordinance, advance notice is to be given unless the property poses an immediate threat to public health, safety and welfare.
(o) “Campsites” have become a frequent occurrence throughout the City, including on public sidewalks, public property, and public rights-of-way. These campsites are unsafe and unhealthy for the people living in them, and have a detrimental effect on the economic vitality of the city, and the safety and welfare of the residents and visitors of the City of Salem.
(p) The City of Salem is a compassionate city, and desires to help persons experiencing residential instability or homelessness, to transition to safe and permanent housing. However, allowing camping on our public sidewalks, in our neighborhoods, and in other areas of our city does not help people transition to housing and has a detrimental effect on the economic vitality of the city, and the public safety and welfare.
(q) Maintaining accessible and attractive sidewalks for pedestrian and commercial traffic is an important public safety objective, and important to maintain the economic vitality of the city. Blocked and obstructed sidewalks present hazards to pedestrians, and discourages visitors and patrons to community businesses.
(r) The placement of tents or other items on public sidewalks, public property, and public rights-of-way, for habitation, is not the ordinary, customary, or intended use of these areas, and is an incompatible and detrimental use of these spaces in all parts of the City.
(s) Campsites can also obstruct and delay emergency personnel responding to emergencies. Campsites can obstruct ingress to and egress from businesses, residential buildings, and other establishments and property. Campsites often exhibit the presence of human waste and uncontained food, which poses public health risks.