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Bloomington City Council Introduces A Law Protecting Homeless Encampments

A city sanitation worker cleans out a tent in Bloomington's Seminary Park.

A city worker removing items from a tent in Seminary Park on Jan. 14. (Ethan Burks, WFIU/WTIU News)

The Bloomington City Council introduced legislation Wednesday night that would offer certain protections for people experiencing homelessness in the community.

Ordinance 21-06 would require the city to give a 15-day notice before removing encampments from public parks and spaces, and allow for people to claim any nonperishable belongings within 60 days of a removal. 

The measure is in response to tents being stripped from Seminary Park, where people were sleeping overnight, on multiple occasions this winter.

READ MORE: Bloomington City Council: City Should Not Remove Encampments During Pandemic

Councilmembers Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger are sponsoring the bill. 

"Nobody thinks it is ideal for people to sleep in tents, especially during the winter. However, the reality is that some people temporarily lack housing and may be unable to go to emergency shelters," said the sponsors in a memo to the council.

The ordinance also defines what constitutes as an encampment, and where they are permitted within the city. 

Language in the bill characterizes a camp as, "a place in an outdoor public park or other public space with temporary accommodations of tents or other structures in which homeless persons have been sleeping overnight."

Camps would be allowed in designated areas under the following requirements:

  1. Within one mile of an organization that prepares at least five meals per week
  2. Has accessibility to public restrooms

The proposal would also forbid the city from removing any camp if "sufficient available housing" isn't available. 

"I do think it is time to extend this conversation to all nine of us [city council] who were dually-elected. This is very important, and I think all of us need to weigh in as soon as possible and have the opportunity ourselves to make any amendments," councilmember Susan Sandberg said. 

The council's Committee of the Whole will discuss the ordinance further at its meeting Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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