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Alpharetta to ban homelessness

'Urban camping' law aims to clear streets

Under a new city law, Alpharetta police can arrest the homeless for living in public or private places. This homeless camp near North Point Mall could be cleared out and cleaned up. JONATHAN COPSEY.
November 21, 2012
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – There is a man who has been living in the shelter of the old gas station on South Main Street, across from Alpharetta's City Hall. He is homeless and in a bad way – terminal cancer. He used to be a model resident of Alpharetta until his wife passed away. He gave up all his belongings to live on the streets. Now, the city is looking to move this man and others like him off its streets.

At their Nov. 19 meeting, the Alpharetta mayor and City Council approved the first reading of a new law that would make it a crime to set up "urban camps" within the city – that is, squatting in areas not specifically intended to allow squatters.

"This is a preemptive measure," said Alpharetta Deputy City Administrator James Drinkard, who said there is not a large problem within the city, although there are known homeless people.

Surrounding cities, such as Roswell and Atlanta, have already passed their own legislation barring homelessness, and Alpharetta is concerned that the homeless from those cities might be pushed into its own city limits.

"Other cities are taking tougher stances," Drinkard said, "and if we don't step up and enact tougher ordinances, all those [homeless] folks will come here. Then we'll have a problem on our hands."

The new law would make it a crime to use public or private property for camping anywhere other than where camping is intended.

No "urban camping" would be allowed on public streets or parks or on private property without the owner's permission. A verbal warning must be issued before a subject can be arrested.

"This gives the police more authority in situations that do involve urban camping," City Attorney Sam Thomas said. "The loitering ordinances are not sufficient enough."

In light of the worsening economy and the recent new laws of other cities, Alpharetta officials said they have seen an uptick in the numbers of homeless in the city.

"We have had a lot of citizens complain about homeless people," Public Safety Director Gary George said.

He cited the old gas station on South Main Street, which is a popular spot to sleep, in plain sight of passers-by, and one instance of a homeless man attacking a resident.

George stressed the police would do everything in their power to get the homeless off the streets and into shelters or programs that could help them get back on their feet. That homeless man living under the gas station? An Alpharetta officer took it upon herself to find a shelter that would take him in and help him. Another officer found a veteran single mother living in her car with her child. They were given aid and set up in a program designed to get working families back on their feet.

But not everyone is homeless by fate; some chose to live the lifestyle of a bum.

"There are people out there who just want to be homeless," Drinkard said. "They want to live that way. The ones who just chose to do that, those are the ones you end up having problems with."

In most instances, George said the police would try and find a way to get any homeless they encounter into programs designed to get them back on their feet, or medical attention. Jail is not the reason for the law.

"[Putting them in jail] would be the very last resort," George said. "It's not about arresting them. It's about actually helping them."

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  1. report print email
    Homeless Help
    November 26, 2012 | 02:00 PM

    If Alpharetta wants to "help" the homeless, then this "law" needs to come with a nice big new homeless shelter to go with it. Perhaps they can turn the old city hall into a shelter when their new PALACE has been completed. Maybe instead of spending frivolously, like $41,000 on ceramic urns and fresh flowers for them, they could use taxpayer money for the things that are truly necessary. I'm so tired of this uppity city government. I'm from a family - on both sides - that practically founded Alpharetta and Roswell. What has happened to our towns is shameful and embarrassing.

  2. report print email
    November 27, 2012 | 09:15 AM

    Yes,just kick the poor souls off the street - and then they go where?

    What's the plan after you kick them off the street? Or isn't there any? Or does Alpharetta just hope that they will move to Milton or Johns Creek?

  3. report print email
    To Homeless Help
    November 27, 2012 | 03:52 PM

    Just make sure that the homeless shelter has mandated black wrought iron outdoor furniture to keep up with the mandates on the rest of the downtown businesses.

  4. report print email
    November 27, 2012 | 05:18 PM

    I think the plan Donna is to load them all on a bus and drop them off in front of the Georgia Dome....

    Elliot Garcia
    Alpharetta, GA
  5. report print email
    Palatial Urns
    November 27, 2012 | 10:01 PM

    Donna, you also forgot about the maintenance cost of the urns. $500 a year per planter to water them. They just re-approved 29K.

  6. report print email
    Well, say what you will...
    November 27, 2012 | 11:56 PM

    ...but Alpharetta is not liberal San Francisco where the "urban outdoorsmen" run amok and perpetually harass everyone and are allowed to relieve themselves wherever they want to. The problem in San Francisco is so bad that human excrement reportedly clogs up the works of the escalators.

    So Alpharetta spends money on homeless shelters. Has anyone really thought this through and read case studies, or even interviewed homeless people? When the homeless are put up in public shelters, they have security concerns just like we do. Many if not most homeless people would rather live on the streets in the safety of the open rather than be forced to live in a controlled and confined space with strangers (who might well be violent).

    If I wanted to be harassed and hit up for money every time I went out, I'd move back to downtown Atlanta.

  7. report print email
    November 28, 2012 | 10:31 AM

    I'm glad that this is finally being addressed. I have seen that guy outside of the gas station every day for the past few months and NOTHING has been done about it. While this man specifically may not be a problem, homelessness will become a problem if the city lets it.

    Jason - There was no mention of Alpharetta putting in any homeless payer's money funding homelessness? I would hope that wouldn't stand...

    The real way to help homeless people is to get them involved with local community groups (possibly churches). These organizations want to help these individuals and families in need to promote them to become contributing members of the community. Unfortunately, as the article states, some people don't want to be helped and those are the ones you have to look out for.

    To the people who made comments about how much the city is spending on new construction and such, that is completely irrelevant to this conversation. The people of the city voted and it passed. To say that the government should be responsible for people who won't take responsibility for themselves is downright shameful and embarrasing. When are we going to make people take personal responsibility for their lives? I support this ordinance to maintain and improve the quality of the community where my family and I have made our home.

  8. report print email
    Re: Well, say what you will..
    November 28, 2012 | 10:34 AM

    There have been homeless people since time began. If you don't feel like a shelter would benefit the homeless, then perhaps Alpharetta could hire them so they could afford to get a place to sleep. Some of them could water the urns. And yes, you are welcome to move back to Atlanta. I've lived in Alpharetta all my life and personally, I've never been harrassed by a homeless person here, and I've known no one who ever complained about such harrassment.

  9. report print email
    Re: Finally...
    November 28, 2012 | 12:04 PM

    If the local community charities and churches wanted to help the homeless, they would use outreach programs to find them. They need funds to do these things as well. That means people need to donate to those churces and organizations. Donations are down. The economy has hit hard in every area... that's one of the major contributions to the homeless population. You don't want tax dollars (government) to be responsible for them and yet the charities don't have donation dollars to do it. Take responsibility for their lives? You live in a bubble. Do you know that a large portion of the homeless are veterans who served this country and protected your freedom and then when they returned, crippled in body, mind or spirit, and were unable to get it together... coupled with the high unemployment... they didn't necessarily choose to live on the streets... they were dumped there by a system that doesn't care about them when they return. Other populations are those with mental health issues who can't function in a "normal" society. People who "choose" to be homeless are likely people who have tried and finally gave up. People in this economy who have lost their jobs and are unable to secure a new one. People who lost their homes and had no where to turn. Family is important in this... but many times family turns away from their homeless kin. Were you born with a silver spoon? Why don't you go out to the guy at the station and ask him what you could do to help him? Oh, you wouldn't lower yourself to speak to him.

  10. report print email
    How it should be done
    November 29, 2012 | 03:08 PM

  11. report print email
    December 01, 2012 | 05:43 PM

    I'm not moving back to Atlanta. I moved OUT of there for several reasons, not the least of which were the constant panhandling by the homeless, being mugged once, and not one but TWO cars stolen.

    If Alpharetta opens up to the homeless problem, then it will only be a matter of time before Atlanta's problems become Alpharetta's problems. Oh, and I've been hit upon by a homeless person panhandling at the downtown Alpharetta Publix. So now you know one person who has been harassed by them.

    I'd really hate to see Alpharetta turn into another downtown ATL. Even the homeless have a way of getting the word that an area is "homeless friendly" and they will flock there. But that's okay. Just as easily as I moved from ATL to Alpharetta/Milton, I can move further north yet again if events warrant it.

  12. report print email
    Homeless in Alpharetta
    December 03, 2012 | 11:47 PM

    I lived in Alpharetta for most of the time I have lived in Atlanta and I hope they can keep them out. It is a nice little town and hope they can keep it that way.

    Just little old me
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