Nevada City moves ahead with homeless camping permit process
November 16, 2012
In what was repeatedly referred to as a "unique" approach in dealing with Nevada City's homeless residents, the town's City Council took the first steps Wednesday toward a camping ordinance that requires a permit to lodge on public property.
The council adopted a first reading of the no-camping ordinance, which Nevada City Police Chief Jim Wickham described as the groundwork for a camping ordinance.
Because the town has no ordinance against camping on public property, Wickham initially tried to get council to amend the code in July.
"Then I recognized the homeless issue is the elephant in the room," Wickham said.
“We don’t know if this is going to work or not. This is just a realistic attempt to make something work.”
— Nevada City Mayor Duane Strawser
If the ordinance to prohibit camping passes a second reading, a committee will be established to grant permits exempting holders from the regulation.
Initially, the department would only dole out six to nine permits that would allow people to stay on approved public property for a probationary 15-day period, Wickham said.
People with RVs who are visiting residents, customers avoiding intoxicated driving and folks staying for special events may be exempted from needing a permit.
Permitting would be a joint process between police and members of the community, including downtown police beat Officer Shane Franssen, police Chaplin Toby Nelson and Jeff Dupra, who is Hospitality House's outreach coordinator.
Dupra, who is garnering local renown for his outreach work, would visit the proposed campsites or other kinds of proposed areas to determine if the location meets the health, safety and adequate shelter criteria, Wickham noted.
"Part of the permit process is to create a situation where a person in need comes to the committee, to the city, to be made aware of the resources available to them," said City Attorney Hal DeGraw.
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 noted.
"To me, the real strength is that it is providing a little incentive for people who oftentimes, because they are overlooked, begin to forget that they are capable of great things," Dupra said. "I think we all know that if someone holds us to a standard, even if it a small one to begin with, we begin to overcome because someone is paying attention and that they are looking in on us and care about the outcome."
Based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's classification of unsheltered homeless individuals as living in a place not meant for human habitation, Nevada City police officers have gauged that the town has approximately 60 homeless residents, a "high percentage" of them have known criminal histories involving drugs and alcohol, Wickham said.
"My idea was to be here and be in a safe community," said homeless resident David Tosse. "I know I am sleeping in a tent right now, but I am going to move on and get myself together again."
Tosse noted that he has lived in the community since 2006, until he lost his job and residence.
"I just want to thank you for letting me stay here," Tosse said to the council before plugging his phone into the City Hall council chambers wall and taking his seat to watch the rest of the debate on the camping and permitting issue.
Of those estimated 60 homeless individuals, the police department put them into three tiers. The tiers range from those with limited law enforcement contact to known criminals, who would not be likely to meet the criteria for a permit and would be dealt with by law enforcement.
Wickham declined to disclose some of the places that would be permitted, citing concerns of backlash at people trying to comply with law enforcement.
The proposed permitted process itself would be on a six-month trial period, at the end of which it will be reviewed.
"I feel this is fair and progressive," said Mayor Duane Strawser. "We don't know if this is going to work or not. This is just a realistic attempt to make something work."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.