FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Flagstaff officials have decided to keep an ordinance that bans camping on public property in the city.
The city council has decided to not alter the ordinance, which classifies camping in public areas and sleeping in parked cars as a low-level misdemeanor, the Arizona Daily Sun reported .
The ordinance, which was adopted in 2005, prohibits sleeping or making accommodations to sleep, including setting up a tent, storing personal belongings and making a fire. The measure distinguishes between sleeping and napping, which is allowed.
Officers are required to issue warnings for first offenses and provide a list of resources for people who are homeless, city attorney Marianne Sullivan said. People camping because shelters are full or they are fleeing dangerous home situations can use that reasoning as a defense against receiving a citation.
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“We believe this ordinance is necessary to help protect our city,” Sullivan said. “Enforcement is very limited.”
Officers have arrested and cited 23 people in the last five years under the ordinance, according to the city’s police department. Over the same period, 266 warnings have been issued. Police said the measure helps reduce the risk of fires.
At the Tuesday meeting, residents opposed to the ordinance said it places more of a burden on the most vulnerable members of the community.
“There is no compassionate way to enforce the anti-camping ordinance,” said Klee Benally, a community activist. “Life is already hard enough for our unsheltered relatives on the streets.”
Councilwoman Eva Putzova suggested that officials look for an alternative solution, like designating a parking lot as a place where people could legally park and sleep.
“I feel the ordinance is unnecessary,” Putzova said. “We have other laws that prevent arson and littering. What we are really policing is sleeping.”
Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/