Vineland NJ City Council targets homeless sleeping and camping

VINELAND — Issues with seemingly homeless people using sidewalks and other transit areas to sleep, or something hygienically worse, is prompting the city to toughen its regulations.

The city promises fines to violators found sleeping, camping or abusing rights of way, but only if initial offers of assistance such as transportation to a shelter are denied.

But council members who took a first look at the proposed bylaws on Tuesday night weren’t particularly hopeful that they would be as effective as needed.

Councilman Paul Spinelli said the city already has legal approvals from many landowners to remove homeless people on their behalf. These interventions only work in a limited way, he said.

“You move them from point A,” Spinelli said. “They go to point B. When they move to point B, they move to point C. Eventually, they come back to point A, again.”

“They’re just going around in circles,” Council President Elizabeth Arthur said.

City attorney Richard Tonetta said sleeping in a right-of-way can be dangerous. More tightening of ordinances is also to come.

“We wanted to clarify that you cannot sleep or camp or anything like that in the public right-of-way,” Tonetta said. “So this is one of many new ordinances that will alter and amend the Streets and Roads chapter of our book.”

Spinelli said a business in the area earlier Tuesday saw someone undressing, preparing to defecate on the sidewalk. The police arrived and chased the person away, but the councilman said this kind of incident should result in more than a ‘move out’ order.

“It’s the kind of stuff we have now, the general public is upset,” Spinelli said. “And I don’t blame them. They should be upset. First of all, it’s an indecent exposure.

“It’s about codifying a really tough question,” said council vice-chairman David Acosta.

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Tonetta said the “real problem” facing the city is how often people refuse to be taken to a shelter because they don’t want to follow shelter rules.

“And one of the rules is you can’t drink,” Tonetta said. “Another is that you can’t take drugs. And unfortunately, many homeless people fall into one or both of these two categories. And again, as Paul said, whether it’s because of a mental illness or a traumatic issue, what we want to do is help them.

The ask-then-fine approach is outlined in an ordinance expected to be presented at the September 13 city council meeting. Council members considered its provisions for the first time this week.

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Lawyer Richard Tonetta said the proposed rules would be the first updates in a long time and are a response to new issues affecting public rights of way. Some issues are not related to homelessness but involve the obstruction of other causes such as the positioning of dumpsters, he said.

Joe Smith is a NE Philly native transplanted to South Jersey over 30 years ago, now keeping tabs on the South Jersey government. He is a former and current senior editor of the Daily Journal in Vineland, the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times.

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