Homeless-curbing camping law ramps up in Nevada City
February 15, 2013
A homeless man in Nevada City who has been granted the legal right to camp on public property was brought before the town's City Council Tuesday.
He was greeted with congratulations and appreciation.
Since taking effect in January, Nevada City's estimated 60 homeless people have found themselves either in violation of the homeless-curbing, no-camping ordinance or in a position where they must seek exemption from it, which involves the scrutiny of ensuring their campsite meets adequate health and safety standards.
William Peach is the first person in Nevada City to prove his campsite meets such standards.
"If a person is going to be a part of the community, you have to be responsible for your actions," Peach told the council.
Peach's appearance was part of Nevada City Police Chief Jim Wickham's update to the council on the ordinance at their Tuesday meeting.
"He's a good individual and he's been very supportive of this program," Wickham said.
Not only is Peach the ordinance's poster child, he was actively involved in its formulation, along with representatives from homeless service organizations, Nevada City police and a chaplain.
"The reason I think this is going to work so well is because we have a broad spectrum of support in this," Wickham told the council.
In addition to Peach, Wickham said that a handful of prospective sanctioned campers have approached the city.
"We do have a couple campsites, one that has an individual who has been there for 10-plus years," Wickham said. "This is someone who has his lifestyle set."
People with RVs who are visiting residents, customers avoiding intoxicated driving and folks staying for special events are not targeted for needing an exemption.
"The program is moving forward," Wickham said. "It's in the early stages and everyone is watching us to see how it is going."
Beyond those seeking compliance, Wickham said the ordinance is already having a measurable effect through the posting of notices alone.
In recent surveys of Sugarloaf Mountain, which the city purchased in 2011 and subsequently annexed, police posted signs informing the occupants of an estimated 15 campsites that the new no-camping ordinance was taking effect.
After the signs went up, Wickham said only three of campsites remained inhabited.
"The majority of the individuals living in those communities don't want to deal with law enforcement," Wickham said during his presentation, amid a backdrop of photos taken at Sugarloaf featuring heaps of trash and other waste at multiple sites on the mountain.
"We found some specific areas that are hot spots of trash," Wickham said. "If we don't manage our public space properly, we'll continue to have this trash problem."
Wickham reported that the public works department estimated it would cost more than $2,000 to clean up the accumulated trash at Sugarloaf.
Mayor Duane Strawser pointed out that not all of the trash at those sites was placed there by homeless people.
"It is exaggerating the perception that it is our homeless population causing that," Strawser said, with which the police chief agreed, adding that the trash had accumulated over time.
As for the ordinance's effectiveness, Peach said it is up to each person to comply.
"I think it is according to the individual," Peach said. "What works for me may not work for another, but you have to start somewhere."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, e-mail email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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