What's the best way to curb Fresno's problems with homelessness? One city councilman says it's a new ordinance that doesn't even contain the word "homeless."
Steve Brandau wants to enact a camping ban, where homeless individuals are forced to choose between accepting help, moving on or going to jail.
"It's time to get serious about this problem," Brandau said. "It's a major problems for business owners and to a lot of our residents."
Brandau says there are three basic types of homeless: people who are down on their luck and working to get back on their feet, the mentally ill and drug dependent who often hide in the cracks, and a group he calls "campers," people who have the capability to get help but instead choose to sleep, eat, bathe (and everything else) outside. It's this last group, he says, that he's targeting with his ordinance.
"This is about the city saying, 'We're going to change the dynamic. We're not going to enable you to do this behavior anymore. You're either going to have to go get help, and we have some great partners,'" said Brandau. "'Either you go get some help, or change your behavior.'"
Brandau says the ordinance is inspired by a similar camping ban passed in Sacramento in 1995, a ban that led to protests, arrests and a court battle eventually won by the city.
The District 2 councilman says he has the support of Mayor Lee Brand and Police Chief Jerry Dyer. Should the ordinance pass the council on August 17th, the penalty is a trip to jail. Brandau says Chief Dyer believes eventually, that threat will convince many homeless residents to change their behavior.
"These folks don't want to be put out by going to jail once, twice, three times a month and separated from their belongings," said Brandau. "And so he thinks it will cause a chunk of them to say it's not worth it any more, I'm not going to do it anymore. I'm going to figure something else out."
Support from local homeless advocates, however, is mixed.
Brandau says the Fresno Rescue Mission supports his camping ban, but other groups, including downtown Fresno's Poverello House, worry they will be overrun if people are not allowed to sleep outside.
"Some of these groups, I've had to reassure them that we're not going to overwhelm them," said Brandau. "That we will work within the framework and we'll still be great partners, but we have to take this very serious."
Brandau says he has not spoken about the ordinance with fellow council members, but says all of his colleagues receive complaints about the homeless constantly.
The councilman plans to unveil his plan officially in a news conference Tuesday, August 15th at 10:15am in front of City Hall.