Finding alternatives to the city's homeless ordinance

Written on 03/20/2024
Patrick Munsey

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The proposed ordinance by the City of Kokomo to oust the homeless from public places and take their property has not been met with favor in many circles. Seeing no solution for the greater problem within the measure’s language, those seeking public office are speaking out against the action.

And at least two sitting officials are exploring alternatives.

At the March 11, Kokomo Common Council meeting, just one councilman raised concerns and voted against the ordinance, which would allow the city to forcibly remove the homeless from public spaces, sending them to shelters that have no beds to spare or arresting them for trespass if they resist. And their property would be seized and held for up to 60 days before disposal.

Councilman Bob Stephenson (D-2nd) voted against the measure. And in the wake of its passage on first reading, another councilman, Jeff Plough (R-5th), is seeking alternatives. He suggested that the National Guard Armory in Kokomo, which is scheduled to be mothballed later this year, could be converted into a homeless shelter.

That sentiment was echoed by Howard County Commissioner Jack Dodd. Dodd asserted that the county’s efforts to demolish the Firestone building downtown were spurred, in part, by a growing homeless population squatting in and around the building. While he has reached out to Mayor Tyler Moore to express an opinion, he made no comment on the city’s proposed ordinance.

Dodd did, however, reach out to the office of Gov. Eric Holcomb to inquire about the possibility of taking the armory property for public use, agreeing with Plough that a homeless shelter there is an intriguing possibility.

The spot in the stairwell of one of the city’s parking garages where the homeless commonly urinate.

Dodd’s political opponent in the November election, Sherry Roe, strongly opposed the city’s proposed actions. Acknowledging that Howard County has a stake in the matter, she called for a different approach.

“I'm infuriated,” said Roe. “(The city) is jumping over backwards and doing flips to accommodate all these new people coming in here to live. I feel like they could put (the homeless) in an apartment building. Some of the homeless people are veterans. Is this how we treat them?

“Let’s help them. Give them resources. Help them get a job to get on their feet. We should start helping our own before we're worried about helping other people. Arresting them or confiscating their things, that is not the answer. If they're going to the bathroom in public places, let's open a bathroom right now.”

“We need to come together to find a place for them. I think this was the wrong approach, most definitely. I’m very disappointed that our government is doing this.”

Remnants of a homeless camp near downtown.

Eli Guest, a candidate for a Howard County Council at-large seat, also condemned the Moore administration’s approach to the homeless.

“We need to do more to help our homeless,” said Guest. “I don't think it's right to leave them with no place to go. We need more programs to help these people, to educate them, to get them back on their feet. We don't have a lot of shelter room. We don't have a lot of food outlets for the homeless. We need public restrooms available. There needs to be more done to help, not just throw them out or put them in jail.”

“If elected, I'd be in a position where we can make real things happen. The Rescue Mission does what they can. We definitely need to look into helping them help people, rather than hurting them and making things worse.”