SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Hours of debate and discussion kept Salem city leaders in the council chamber late into the evening Monday as they considered a new sidewalk camping ordinance.
It’s a controversial proposal, an idea that filled up the entire chamber with community members who wanted to voice their concern. The ordinance aimed to ban sitting or laying on public sidewalks for 14 hours each day, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. City officials said it would address safety and livability concerns, while those who oppose it say the rules would give the homeless no place to go.
Salem City Manager Steve Powers said the plan includes the landscaped area next to the sidewalk.
“It is a civil approach, one that will be done witih compassion and empathy by our police officers,” Powers told KOIN 6 News.
But David Maceira, who volunteers to help the homeless, said, “The challenge of being homeless alone is a tremendous hurdle to get over. What I see with the sit law ordinance is just another barrier.”
The discussion was emotional. Members of the business community pushed for the ordinance to pass, while homeless advocates pushed back against it.
“I would just like to see any one of us who sleep in a nice bed at night, in a nice home, to just go out on the streets, lay down on the concrete, and try to survive a night,” said one man during the session’s public comment period. “It tears at the soul.”
By around 9:30 p.m. Monday evening, after lengthy debate, city officials took some of the teeth out of the original ordinance, voting for an amended version that still bans people from camping and leaving property on public right of way, but no longer limits when people can sit or lie on public sidewalks. Council members were at odds over that element of the ordinance. Ultimately, the time limit was taken out because most felt it would open the city up to legal challenges and worried that police would not be able to enforce the measure with compassion.
Council members did discuss a few other tweaks and there was also an amendment to an exclusion zone, but what passed was camping and leaving your personal items out is now prohibited. However, individual people can no longer be excluded from downtown Salem because of it.
Monday night was the first reading of the ordinance. City council members have to vote on it again before it fully passes. The earliest the ordinance could take affect would be at the next council meeting in December
KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.
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