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Proposal outlines rules for clearing homeless camps

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

City officials and social service providers could soon be required to follow a dedicated process when assessing unsheltered encampments for eviction. Metro Council will consider an ordinance Thursday evening that aims to cement that protocol into law. 

Risk assessments are conducted when the city receives complaints about specific encampments. They’re meant to determine whether a camp poses safety risks to neighboring residents or those who live there. 

Two Metro Council members are behind the measure, which outlines steps city officials would need to take before ordering the clearing of a camp. 

District 4 Council Member Jecorey Arthur, a Democrat, is one of the ordinance’s sponsors. At a recent committee meeting, he said the proposal comes in response to public concerns about a lack of transparency and oversight of the city’s existing protocols around clearing encampments. 

“At the beginning of the year, there was an encampment that was cleared downtown. And it's impossible for some of us to really understand how traumatic that can be,” Arthur said. “We never really learned who was responsible for that miscommunication, what the sheer process was when it came to clearing cleaning camps, where notifications were being sent.”

The ordinance proposes changes to the current screening process, such as:

  • Naming specific agencies responsible for overseeing risk assessments and resident relocation
  • Imposing a timeline for notifying outreach agencies, affected residents and an area’s council member
  • Outlining specific risk assessment criteria

The proposal would task the city’s Office of Resilience and Community Services with submitting an annual report based on data collected during the risk assessments. After that, it calls for Metro Council to review the assessment process in an effort to see how well it’s working.  

Public safety committee members recommended the ordinance for approval last week. It passed with nearly full support. District 13 Council Member Mark Fox, a Democrat, was the only one to vote against the measure.

Democratic District 21 representative Nicole George, a social worker, is co-sponsoring the measure. She also spoke about the ordinance during that  committee meeting.

“[City officials and social service providers] will be assessing both risk to those who live in the camps, as well as the camps’ neighbors,” George said. “It ensures that each person who's doing the outreach assesses a camp using the same factors, no matter what area of town they're in, no matter what kind of day they're having, no matter who might be in the camp.”

But there are instances when officials could bypass this official process — like in the case of an emergency. George offered the example of a five-person encampment that blocked a pedestrian bridge in her district. 

“So the risk assessment is not to circumvent what happens in the need of an emergency,” George said. “[The proposal] allows for more detail on what happens in the event that relocation is necessary.”

However, the ordinance’s emergency protocols are vague. It states city officials should provide “whatever notice of relocation is reasonable under the circumstances” to unsheltered residents and organizations providing services, and to confirm receipt of these alerts. The measure also requires city officials to notify service organizations three days before actually clearing the encampment. 

“In cases of emergency, meaning immediate clear, we can move forward and actually issue [the eviction notice] within 24 hours,” Tameka Laird, director of Louisville’s Office of Resilience and Community Services said during the committee meeting. 

Other exemptions to following the proposed risk assessment process apply to encampments at  locations that already have signage prohibiting camping, as well as those located on state or privately-owned property. 

“If a [land] owner has an encampment on their property, then they can work with [Louisville Metro Police Department] on having them removed,” Laird said.