Christopher Rosacker

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December 12, 2012
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Nevada City OKs homeless-regulating camping ordinance

Anyone who intends to sleep on public property in Nevada City, notably homeless folks, will have to obtain a permit to exempt them from a camping ordinance passed by the town’s council Wednesday night.

“I think this a creative way to try to solve a problem we’ve had here in the community for a long time,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Ray.

Until Wednesday, the city had no ordinance to prohibit anyone who put up a tent, shelter or slept on public land without a permit, including those in cars.

Nevada City has approximately 60 homeless residents, a “high percentage” of them have known criminal histories involving drugs and alcohol, according to Police Chief Jim Wickham, the ordinance’s architect.

The ordinance involves the establishment of a committee to help determine whether the public space a person is sleeping on provides for adequate health and safety standards, Wickham noted Wednesday.

Lending the police a hand in that determination are mental health and religious officials, as well as a representative from a homeless service organization.

If the permitted individual demonstrates compliance with the health and safety guidelines of the permit, such as waste disposal, it can be extended to 90 days, Wickham told the council in November.

City Attorney Hal DeGraw equated the ordinance to the city’s burn ban, which states that anyone who wants to burn debris must check in with fire officials to make sure they are in compliance with regulations and aware of any potential risks.

“As long as abiding by law and respecting health and safety issues, I think we ought to try this,” Ray said.

Homeless resident David Tosse told The Union he isn’t worried about complying with the ordinance.

“I do good to keep my camp clean,” Tosse said. “I haul out my trash and use the public bathroom.”

However, not everyone is as optimistic as the city officials who passed the ordinance unanimously.

“This ordinance concerns me significantly because it really doesn’t address what is going to be the council’s direction for those who don’t meet the requirements,” said resident Jerry Bloom. “Are we going to criminalize them or try to drive them out, or are we still going to allow them to live and exist in this community?”

DeGraw praised the ordinance as a creative way to ensure homeless people are aware of the city’s expectations while simultaneously ensuring that appropriate officials have a chance to connect them to services.

People with RVs who are visiting residents, customers avoiding intoxicated driving and folks sleeping in their cars for special events may be exempted from needing a permit, according to Wickham.

The permit process itself will be on a six-month trial period, at the end of which it will be reviewed.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call (530) 477-4236.

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The Union Updated Dec 13, 2012 03:12PM Published Dec 14, 2012 03:53PM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.