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Henderson council passes ordinance outlawing public camping

The Henderson City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting camping in public spaces despite some residents’ concerns that the move will hurt homeless people.

The ordinance amends Henderson’s city code regulating public camping in the city. It expands the legal definition of camping, outlaws camping in public spaces and lays out protocol for enforcing the new guidelines.

The ordinance, which passed unanimously with Councilwoman Carrie Cox absent, expands the city’s legal definition of camping to mean sleeping outdoors, setting up structures like tents or cooking outdoors on a personal stove or in a way that violates public barbecue code.

It directs police to inform people who are illegally camping that they’re breaking city code; find out where shelter beds are available; tell the illegal campers to go somewhere else; and arrest them if they refuse. Violators can face up to six months in jail and/or fines of up to $1,000 per charge.

Of the 23 people who spoke at the meeting, 13 supported the ordinance and 10 were against it.

Henderson resident Melinda Dean took issue with the ordinance and how it will affect unhoused people living in the city.

“I think as a community of people, we need to come together with something better than banning our homeless community,” Dean said in her public comment.

Additional speakers, including former council candidate Tim Cox, echoed Dean, calling for more resources to combat homelessness instead of outlawing public camping.

Others praised the council for passing the ordinance and taking action to address Henderson’s homeless population. They also cited expected positive effects on Henderson businesses.

Shawn Thibeault, president of the Henderson Police Officers Association, said that criminalizing homelessness doesn’t solve the issue but that the ordinance offers an avenue to give support to the homeless instead of outright criminalization.

“I feel that these ordinances are a solution to the problem,” he said, “And they’re giving us actual teeth to work with and be able to get these people to the places that they need.”

Councilman Jim Seebock also highlighted the ordinance’s first step, which “is to see if the person would accept a service and see if there’s room at a shelter before any type of warning or asking them to move along or eventually if an arrest is made.”

Mayor Michelle Romero called the public support for the ordinance “overwhelming,” and said the ordinance doesn’t impede organizations or city initiatives from giving homeless people support, but does “provide some level of safety” to business owners and residents.

Seebock said homelessness was one of the top issues brought up by residents while he was campaigning for City Council earlier this year.

“We need to take this first step because our community has been demanding it. We need to take this first step because our businesses need it,” he said. “That does not negate that outreach and compassion is offered.”

Contact Mark Credico at mcredico@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Instagram @writermark2.

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