Metro Council Passes New Protections For Louisville's Homeless Population
Metro government now has to give residents of homeless encampments 21 days notice before it can clean the camps out, thanks to an ordinance that Metro Council passed Thursday evening.
More than an hour and a half of heated debate preceded the vote, which garnered 19 supporting votes and two against. Council members clashed on a variety of points as well as proposed amendments, including proposed weather-based limitations on clearing camps and the length of the notification period. An attempt to send the ordinance back to committee for further work failed in a tied vote.
The 21-day advance notice is one of a few new guidelines that aim to clarify procedures around the clearing of homeless encampments on government property. The ordinance also requires the government to alert the Coalition for the Homeless or future partners about impending clear-outs.
In the case of more urgent clearings, such as if there is a criminal or public health threat, Metro must store personal belongings for 30 days. The final ordinance also provides for temporarily housing animals found with personal items.
Councilman Bill Hollander, Democrat of District 9, said the ordinance gives people living in homeless camps time to find shelter if they have to move. And it protects their belongings.
"The ordinance results, really, from an incident in the Portland area where what we normally do in this community didn’t happen and by mistake, really, a homeless encampment was cleared with very little notice," he said at a news conference earlier Thursday. 'It’s sort of a heartbreaking story about what happened to the belongings of those homeless individuals that day."
That incident sparked outrage in the community, and caused some to question Louisville's self-proclaimed status as a “compassionate city.”
In December, Mayor Greg Fischer put a temporary hold on clearing out homeless encampments until better notification procedures are in place. He created a task force to address that question. For now, homeless camp clearings appear to remain on hold.
Fischer tweeted his support Thursday evening after the passage of the ordinance.
Councilman Brent Ackerson, Democrat of District 26, said it's not right to force homeless people to move in freezing temperatures.
“My mindset is that if it’s not above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, we should not be displacing people," he said at the news conference. "It’s hard enough when you’ve got to pick up your stuff and move but to fight the cold on top of it is not the compassionate city that we want to be.”
He introduced an amendment to the ordinance Thursday night that would put a temperature limit on clear-outs.
The amendment failed; several council members said they were opposed because it would introduce unpredictability to the homeless camp clear out process. Others, like Councilwoman Julie Denton, Republican of District 19, said it could inadvertently delay the construction of the upcoming Butchertown soccer stadium. There is currently a homeless camp on the site.