West Ada

Despite few homeless, Eagle mulls Boise-style camping law

Workers (who declined to give their names) conduct an inventory of empty tents Dec. 5 at the fenced-off former homeless encampment called Cooper Court in Boise. The city of Boise has drawn both praise and criticism for its handling of a homeless population that grew more visible last year.
Workers (who declined to give their names) conduct an inventory of empty tents Dec. 5 at the fenced-off former homeless encampment called Cooper Court in Boise. The city of Boise has drawn both praise and criticism for its handling of a homeless population that grew more visible last year. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Eagle leaders are being cautious as they talk about whether the city should adopt a new law banning overnight camping in public places.

Police Chief Patrick Calley told the City Council this week that his officers occasionally come across homeless people in Eagle and take them to shelters in Boise. He warned about the legal risk of enforcing a camping ban if the shelters are full.

“Cities and other public entities have assumed some risk for criminalizing homelessness when homeless shelters or homeless services are not available,” Calley said. “And I want to be certain we don’t incur any risk or liability or civic liability to be sued if this were not done properly.”

The city of Boise’s response to homelessness over the past two years has drawn both praise and criticism. Some of the harshest critics accuse the city of using its law, which prohibits camping in public spaces, as a tool to drive away homeless people. Hence Calley’s concern about the perception of “criminalizing homelessness.”

Eagle doesn’t have many homeless people, if any. Furthermore, the city has a brief law already on the books that bans camping in public spaces.

Councilman Jeff Kunz wondered whether the city needs a new law to fix a problem that, so far at least, doesn’t exist.

“If we do see an uptick, we’re likely to know that it’s a gradual uptick, and ... we could take action at that time before it becomes a serious issue,” Kunz said.

Calley recommended having some kind of public camping law available, not to harass people who are homeless and have nowhere to go, but to roust scofflaws who present legitimate safety and security concerns.

“We have had to use this in positioning with individuals that are an actual risk,” Calley said. “An example I would share is, maybe a group of students doing a senior sleep-out and wanting to pitch a tent in Merrill Park or along the Boise River. We want that ordinance to remain. We don’t want it to be jeopardized or stricken. It allows us at least that opportunity at compliance.”

Mayor Stan Ridgeway and the council asked Calley, the city attorney, and Boise city attorneys that handle Eagle misdemeanor prosecutions to look at Boise’s camping law and consider whether some version would be good for Eagle. If they think so, Ridgeway said, they’ll recommend it to the council, which would hold a public hearing and vote before making it law.

Ridgeway said there’s no timetable for that process.

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