At Nov. 19’s city council meeting, council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance making unauthorized camping on public or private property illegal.
“It’s not about arresting people. It’s not about criminalizing the homeless. It’s about helping people that need help,” said Alpharetta Public Safety Department Director Gary George.
George said homeless individuals are inhabiting parks, the greenway, wooded areas and abandoned gas stations — places that are “unsanitary” or “dangerous.”
According to George, police officers often help these men and women by finding churches or shelters to house them or by contacting groups such as North Fulton Community Charities.
“I think all the city employees are there to help,” George continued. “However, we need an ordinance to make some of these things work because occasionally we’ll find those individuals who say, ‘I want to live in the woods and you can’t keep me from living in the woods.’”
George also mentioned a recent incident where a citizen was chased by a homeless man with an ax on Haynes Bridge Road.
George said homeless people are often victims of crimes, and exposure to the elements, especially in the winter, is unhealthy.
Mayor David Belle Isle said council will also be meeting with the director of North Fulton Community Charities to discuss “the best way to get these folks some help.”
Councilman Chris Owens said making arrests in these cases will not be the first action taken.
“I believe our officers need a mechanism to help keep the community safe, but that’s really a mechanism to fall back on,” he said.
One resident expressed concern, asking if the ordinance had to do with preventing an “Occupy” movement — something George said had never occurred to him as a use for the law.
The resident also asked how the ordinance would not criminalize homelessness if arrests were being made and going on the individuals’ permanent records.
Belle Isle restated that the intent is not to arrest people, but it’s a tool that is there “if we have to use it.”