Jefferson Parish Considers New Rules on Camping on Public Lands After Supreme Court Decision

JEFFERSON PARISH, La. (WVUE) – The Jefferson Parish Council has taken the first steps toward potentially solving the problem of homeless encampments.

The council passed a resolution requesting the parish attorney, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Jefferson Parish District Attorney to investigate “potential changes” to parish ordinances regarding camping on public property.

The resolution comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, to enforce its outdoor sleeping ban through fines.

District 5 councillor Han Liljeberg proposed the resolution.

“(The ruling) now gives us the tools to do something about it. It allows the parish … not to enforce this, it allows people to accept a position in life that they just shouldn’t have to accept, and now we can force people to get the help they may need,” he said.

The Council adopted the motion unanimously, without debate.

Grants Pass imposes fines of nearly $300 and elevates them to criminal charges if unpaid. It’s unclear whether any ordinances regarding public camping might result from the Jefferson Parish resolution.

Bruce Reilly of Voice of The Experienced (VOTE) said he was critical of the Supreme Court decision and noted the existing Jefferson Parish Homeless Task Force.

“Rather than empowering this group and putting more funding and energy into this approach and then saying we’re going to turn this into a law enforcement problem, that’s troubling,” he said.

Terry Landry Jr., Louisiana policy director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, also questioned the resolution’s effects on homelessness.

“It doesn’t solve those problems. It doesn’t solve the housing problems of people who don’t have housing or can’t afford it. By adding criminal aspects to the problem instead of actually funding more affordable housing,” he said.

The timeline for creating an ordinance banning outdoor sleeping is unclear. Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick Jr.’s office told Fox 8 it is looking into the matter and will work with the parties as requested.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office has not yet commented.

The Jefferson Parish Homeless Outreach Team is scheduled to meet on Thursday (July 11) at 5:30 p.m. at the Joseph Yenni Building.

Liljeberg also expressed interest in banning panhandling in the parish. A state law that goes into effect Aug. 1 would make it illegal on public roads.

In Orleans Parish, the city’s Office of Homeless Services and Strategies released a statement after the verdict, citing a 12 percent decrease in the number of homeless people without shelter compared to last year.

The statement reads, among other things:

“…We know that arresting people will not solve homelessness, and that is why we are committed to housing those living outside of New Orleans. The City of New Orleans, Unity, and Traveler’s Aid have joined forces and are using national best practices to provide housing directly from encampments, providing an additional pathway out of homelessness for those living in unsafe public health environments. It also quickly returns public spaces to general use…”

New Orleans City Council member Lesli Harris also released a statement opposing the tool, which reads:

“…some leaders have called for ‘improving’ the city center through containment strategies, sanctioned encampments, and arrests. These tactics don’t actually work. Instead, I have long advocated for a more comprehensive approach that houses people living outside the city — and builds a housing system that will last for years…”

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