Metro Council to think about legislation banning homelessness, prohibits tenting in public areas

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BATON ROUGE — An ordinance banning camping in a public area was introduced by two Metro council members on Wednesday, and if passed, the new law could ban homelessness.

“73 percent of mayors across the country have homelessness issues,” said Darryl Gissel, chief administrator of the City Parish.

This includes Baton Rouge.

“It’s become a nationwide epidemic, so the big question is how do we deal with it in a legal and compassionate way,” he said.

Item four of the agenda defines camps as use of public spaces for the following reasons:

(a) storage of personal effects; (b) make a campfire; (c) use of a tent or shelter or other structure as accommodation; (d) conducting cooking activities; or (e) digging or demolition work.

“We see that as a problem. The problem got worse after COVID, after the pandemic, and again we’re really trying to go through the data on why people are here,” Gissel said.

According to Gissel, more than half of the city’s homeless population is not from here.

“We have seen this increase. We know people from other areas are here. We estimate that in many cases over 50 percent of the people we find on the streets are not from Baton Rouge,” he said.

How would this new law be enforced? There are two penalties: either a person will be fined $200, put in jail, or both.

“When law enforcement tells people to move and they say they can’t stay there. They actually moved. I think we just had one episode where someone refused to cooperate and then we cleaned up the area,” he explained.

The chief administrator explained how Baton Rouge is currently dealing with homeless sites.

“We have teams that we call hot teams. They go out twice a week, one cop, one sheriff’s deputy, depending on the borough. They are specially trained to deal with people in camps or the homeless, as well as law enforcement. We have a group of psychiatric and social workers trying to guide people to housing,” Gissel said.

The proposal was only introduced at the meeting on Wednesday. It is to be discussed and voted on at the June 22 meeting.

To view the proposal, visit here.