Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Safer Kentucky Act, which criminalizes homelessness, will soon go into effect

By meerna Jul11,2024
Safer Kentucky Act, which criminalizes homelessness, will soon go into effect

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled in a decision in Grants Pass, Oregon, that homeless people can be arrested for camping outdoors even if they have no other options.

The federal decision does not require local governments to enforce outdoor camping bans, but Kentucky will have to do so under the Safer Kentucky Act, which makes street camping a Class B misdemeanor with a $250 fine for repeat offenses.

Republican state Rep. Jason Nemes of Middletown, who co-sponsored the Safer Kentucky Act, called the homelessness-focused legislation “benevolent toward the homeless population.”

“If we continue down this path in Louisville, we will become San Francisco. And the Republican majority will not allow that,” he said.

Nemes said the push is to protect property owners and ensure public safety. The goal is to place homeless people in court-ordered rehabilitation programs, which will be up to a judge, he said.

“If charges are brought against them, we hope they will be dismissed because they successfully completed or did everything they could to complete the alternative program,” Nemes said.

People will be allowed to camp temporarily in designated areas indoors or outdoors, in accordance with regulations that local authorities must create.

Clearing encampments could be one way cities are trying to comply with the Safer Kentucky Act, which would force people to relocate from place to place.

That would create more barriers, as providers expect it will be difficult to find clients and provide them with resources. If someone is charged, they will have to remember to show up in court on a specific date, which Nemes acknowledged would be a challenge.

Catherine McGeeney, communications director for the Coalition for the Homeless, called the Safer Kentucky Act “a bad bill.” The city’s shelters are almost always full, especially family shelters, and housing options are limited, she said.

“And housing is so expensive now, it’s really hard to find housing that anyone can afford,” McGeeney said.

The law states that the state attorney general can sue local governments that fail to enforce street camping laws.

Nemes said the goal is to help homeless people.

“So if you don’t want the Attorney General to get involved in this, and I certainly don’t want to get involved in this, then do your thing,” he said.

McGeeney said she will appeal to elected officials to understand that homelessness is a political issue, not a personal one.

“As a community, we need to take action to dismantle the system and the justice system that we have put in place to create the problems of poverty and homelessness,” she said.

Nemes said lawmakers have been working closely with Louisville Democratic Mayor Craig Greenberg and said his administration is working on the steps needed to comply with the law. The mayor will meet with lawmakers later this month, he said.

Greenberg said earlier this week that the city will focus on providing services and shelter to homeless people.

He touted investment in the planned Community Care Campus, which won’t be fully operational until 2026. A family shelter could open on the site later this year.

Greenberg said that if someone exhibits “inappropriate behavior” regardless of housing status, they will be held accountable.

He added that the cycle of people going in and out of prison contributes to challenges on the streets.

“And that’s something we’re working on with the state’s attorney and the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections, as well as the judiciary. It’s a comprehensive approach to keeping the streets safe and healthy,” he said.

The Safer Kentucky Act goes into effect July 15.

By meerna

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