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Is Banning Urban Camping Going to Help the Homeless?

Alpharetta has passed the first reading of an ordinance that outlaws camping in the woods in city limits.

Alpharetta is one vote away from banning urban camping, a move called by some as an attack on homeless people, as they are the only people doing any camping inside city limits.

Alpharetta Public Safety Director Gary George, who brought the proposed ordinance to City Council, said the law is necessary for his officers to help the homeless.

"It's not about arresting and putting the homeless in jail, it's about getting them help," he told council members when he and City Attorney Sam Thomas presented the ordinance last week.

Existing ordinances weren't sufficient enough to deal specifically with these issues, Thomas said.

Do you think this is a tool for police officers to help, or is it an attack on the homeless? Tell us your opinion in the comments below.

"This is a situation that's been growing and escalating for several months, actually a couple of years," George said.

Local churches and city employees are ready to help, he said.

"However, we also have a lot of citizens that complain about homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks" or camped out in their backyards. Those who camp out in the woods along the Big Creek Greenway in several places are almost in the backyards of residents whose homes back up to the greenway, George said.

People driving through downtown Alpharetta saw a homeless man sleeping in the closed gas station next to Smokejack for a long time.

Those urban campsites are unsanitary, they have no showers, no running water, no bathroom facilities and no place to wash their clothes, the Public Safety Director said.

Churches in the city have helped find some of these homeless people shelter for a night, often putting them up in hotels. They've helped find them places to rent. That's something in which North Fulton Community Charities offers assistance.

"We're working with North Fulton Community Charities right now and our churches to help these people," George said.

Officer Amanda Clay helped that homeless man in downtown Alpharetta find a shelter in Gainesville that took him in. She had taken him breakfast each morning after her shift meeting, and struck up a friendship as she found out more about him.  The longtime resident of Alpharetta gave up the burdens of maintaining a home after the loss of his wife to cancer, Clay said in a letter to her boss. She found out he was dying of terminal cancer.

"I'm glad I was able to help my friend, and I will miss my friend," Clay said.

George said that's the type of help city employees would like to provide. But sometimes officers run into people who say they want to live in the woods.

"To me the ordinance unfortunately is necessary because people don't always accept the help they need," George said.

Some of the homeless people are either victims of crime or are committing crimes, and police have had to intervene.

"This is not a brand new issue. This is an issue that's been going on for years," said Councilman D.C. Aiken. "We just need to have a way for our police officers to have a way to handle this situation."

Marc Riehl November 26, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Sad, oh so sad. Empty hands for help and hard lines. Looks bad and smells bad, hard heart. Looks like Alpharetta City Government needs to step up to help people in need not the Chamber of Commerce who lobby's against our Teachers, Police and Fire Fighters,
Ben Simms November 27, 2012 at 12:44 AM
How would this proposed ordinance affect kids camping out in their backyards, church youth groups spending a retreat night beside the church under the stars, Cub Scout and Girl Scout units wanting to introduce kids to the outdoors, or one of my neighbors sleeping in his hammock between the trees in the woods behind his home? I sure hope all such positive "urban camping" activities have been excluded from any such ruling!
Bob Pepalis November 27, 2012 at 01:26 AM
There are exceptions to the ban. On private property campers such as children or Scouts just need the property owner or leaseholder's permission. I'm attaching the complete ordinance as proposed to this article. And if it passes, you'll still be able to "camp out" for Black Friday specials, too, as long as it's OK with the stores.
No Name November 27, 2012 at 05:03 AM
It's not their job to find help for them, so you should be grateful for the fact that they are. If you have such a big heart for it, YOU should be reaching out and helping them yourself, not putting it upon someone else like "the government" (i.e.,taxpayers).

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