Council tables tenting invoice amid questions on homelessness | Information


Danville City Council wants more information on an ordinance banning camping on city lands. This comes after advocates for the city’s homeless population warned of possible unintended consequences of the measure.

The council voted unanimously on Tuesday to put the idea on the table. The ordinance doesn’t specifically mention homeless people or vagrants, but proponents pointed out that other US cities have used public camping ordinances to deal with homeless people.

As originally outlined, the local ordinance would require any police officer enforcing it to provide violators with information on housing and other available assistance. But Larissa Dedrich, director of the Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, says there’s a better idea. “I believe that the City of Danville would be better served by providing additional housing and assistance funds for the homeless or the homeless rather than placing an additional burden on our police department,” Dedrich said.

Jessica Hearne of Grace and Main, a downtown Danville ministry, says it creates more problems than it solves. “Adding criminal charges, fines, jail time and even losing the rest we need … is cruel and also totally ineffective in reducing homelessness in our city,” Hearne said.

City Attorney Clarke Whitfield says the proposal addresses issues such as road and sidewalk obstructions and potential damage to city property. “There is nothing in this proposed regulation that would lock up anyone who sleeps on the street,” Whitfield said. “It’s always a class four offense … it’s not an offense punishable by jail.”

Jude Swanson, executive director of the House of Hope, Danville’s only homeless shelter, says they are currently the only option for the city’s homeless population. He says they’re in the midst of an expansion from 16 beds to more than 40. “That’s almost tripling and sounds like a big jump, but if this trend continues, that won’t be enough.”

Swanson says there has been a noticeable increase in homelessness in Danville in recent months. He says inflation coupled with the end of COVID-era clearance policies are the most likely culprits.

Mayor Alonzo Jones says the goal of the proposal isn’t arresting homeless people. He says presenting the problem will allow them to find something that addresses the problem more clearly without targeting the homeless. At the same time, they also want to look at strategies to help the local homeless population. “We’re going to talk to the groups that have shown up here tonight and work together,” Jones said.