Homeless ordinance continued

Written on 03/29/2024
Patrick Munsey

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A proposed ordinance designed to move the homeless out of downtown Kokomo has been delayed after facing community opposition. On March 25, the Kokomo Common Council moved to continue the legislation, and Mayor Tyler Moore has indicated an intent to review the matter through the institution of a community “task force.”

The ordinance would authorize city employees to remove the property of “camping” individuals from public spaces. It further makes such camping illegal, but it is unclear on what will happen to the affected homeless after their property is seized. The ordinance exempts the “camper” from the requirements of the ordinance if there is no place to which they can be relocated. Currently, Howard County’s shelters for the homeless are full and have been so for years, at least for men.

Councilman Bob Stephenson was the only council member to raise questions about the ordinance and to vote against it on first reading. But it was not well received by the nonprofit community devoted to providing aid and assistance to the homeless. Representatives from those organizations appeared at the council meeting to express their displeasure, only to find the ordinance continued.

These nonprofits, at least some of whom were never consulted by the Moore administration before the proposed ordinance was copied from a similar measure in Elkhart, didn’t wait to see what would happen next. There were reports that Moore rushed to meet with the nonprofits on March 22 after the legislation met with opposition.

From those meetings, the Lantern was informed that Moore intends to form a “task force” to include the service providers in the conversation. Dennine Smith, executive director of Coordinated Assistance Ministries (CAM), was among those in favor of being consulted about alternatives to the legislation. CAM released an official position on the matter earlier this week.

“CAM's mission is to show God's love by meeting unmet needs and to empower individuals and families in our community,” the position states. “A part of empowering people is advocacy. As advocates for individuals experiencing homelessness and housing instability, it is our desire to work in partnership with our city, with others who serve this population, and with community stakeholders to discuss some alternative approaches to addressing the issues raised in Ordinance 7128.

“There has been a productive conversation about the development of a task force, as well as discussions about other efforts to address the need for shelter beds. I anticipate that we will have more details in the coming weeks.”

Currently, the ordinance is scheduled to be heard on second and final reading by the council on April 8. Whether the ordinance actually gets that hearing is a question. Moore has the ability to request his ordinance be pulled, and he can veto the measure if the council passes it over his hypothetical protestations.

The Kokomo Common Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Mon., April 8, in caucus before holding its public meeting at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.