Albany’s new city law authorizing officially permitted homeless camps passed the city council withhout opposition this week with one big question unanswered.
The question is this: Where is the first city-designated camp going to be?
The ordinance, which the council approved on Wednesday, says camping is to be allowed on city-owned property designated by the city manager. The manager also may approve requests by churches and other groups to operate sites on their private property with up to four camp sites each.
The ordinance says permitted camps on public and private property must have water and portable toilets, and campers’ belongings must be screened. No open fires are allowed, but fire extinguishers must be provided.
The camps must not be near schools or waterways, and they must be available to anyone who wants to be there regardless of drug or alcohol use.
Camping anywhere on public or private property outside the permitted sites is unlawful, the ordinance says.
City Manager Peter Troedsson said Wednesday he had not picked the city-owned site that would be designated first. I asked again on Friday, but if he has a place in mind, he isn’t saying. (See below for his reply.)
A related question: Will siting a homeless camp be a land-use action subject to procedures such as public notice and possibly hearings? The ordinance doesn’t say.
The camping ordinance is Albany’s answer to court rulings and state legislation that make it impossible for cities to keep people from setting up camp on sidewalks, in parks or anywhere else on public property they want. To prohibit this, cities must provide a place where homeless people can rest or spend the night.
Years ago, before homelessness became widespread and improvised camps started popping up all over the place, there was a big camp on the Albany riverfront, hidden from view and run by the people who lived there. Camp Boondoggle was its name before it was shut down.
Wonder what they’ll call the new city homeless camp when it is set up. (hh)
Postscript: On Sunday morning, City Manager Peter Troedsson replied to my question about the location: “We’re actively evaluating city-owned properties to determine which site will have the least impact on the surrounding community, and how we will set up and manage the site. The state, through HB-3115, has mandated that we designate a site before July 1 of this year, or alternatively, that we allow camping on any public property. We do anticipate completing an evaluation and designating a site in time to be in compliance with HB-3115.”