NOTE: This article that features The Chamber's President & CEO, Eric Spoonmore, was published on August 16, 2023 in Indiana Public Media by Lucas Gonzalez. Photos are provided by Cali Lichter, WFIU/WTIU News.
The City of Bloomington’s Board of Public Works has approved a resolution seeking to prevent camping and other obstructions in streets, sidewalks and roads.
The board’s three members unanimously passed the resolution Tuesday, paving the way for the city council to modify the city code to include such language.
Adam Wason, the city’s public works director, said there have been instances of people blocking the sidewalks with their belongings.
“There was no way that the public right-of-way at that point in time was ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant,” Wason said. “There was no way it was passable by somebody simply walking by.”
Wason said people typically clear their belongings from the sidewalk when asked, but the city recently encountered someone who refused. In that case, it had no authority to remove them or their belongings.
After alterations suggested by the board, the resolution suggests that refusal to remove obstructions be considered trespassing.
However, the document is non-binding and serves only as a recommendation for the council to vote on an ordinance of the same nature.
Public opinion on the resolution was mixed.
Sydney Zulich, the Democratic nominee for the District 6 seat on the city council, said the resolution unfairly targets those experiencing homelessness.
“Homeless people have stuff; we all have stuff,” Zulich said. “Instead of demonizing them for having stuff like the rest of us do, I really encourage you to look for solutions that give them a place to put their stuff instead of just taking it.”
Zulich acknowledged the issues created by obstructions in the public right-of-way but suggested a different approach, such as lockers or other spaces for homeless individuals to keep their belongings.
Wason, however, rejected the notion that the resolution demonizes homeless people.
Kyla Cox-Deckard, the board’s president, took the opportunity to clarify that the resolution is not meant to target people but to prevent stray items in public spaces.
“We’re talking about things like temporary structural items, belongings, things that are occupying the space when we use the word ‘obstructions,’” Cox-Deckard said. “It’s when the right-of-way is obstructed by material items that are not allowing for the public to use it.”
Eric Spoonmore, the president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, spoke favorably of the resolution. He said local business owners have expressed concerns about camping in public spaces.
“This is a matter of equity and it’s a matter of accessibility,” Spoonmore said. “We want Bloomington to be as accessible as possible, and so we give our full-throated support to this proposal.”
Spoonmore did, however, recommend a few changes to the document. Cox-Deckard responded by saying council members will be able to edit it as they see fit before voting on it.
The public work board’s vote came a night before the Board of Park Commissioners is slated to consider disallowing tents in public parks during the day. The city currently allows tents in parks from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. — the city parks’ hours of operation.
A staff memo presented to the park commissioners board for consideration states, “Camping structures and makeshift enclosures have become a serious public health risk and safety issue due to vandalism, illegal activity, and the accumulation of abandoned property and garbage.”
The Board of Park Commissioners has the authority to set policies “to support the mission and goals” of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, according to the memo.
If the board votes in favor of the resolution, it will go into effect on Aug. 23, according to its current language.
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