It’s not just parks: Bloomington looking to add law against camping in public right-of-way

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration wants to put a law on the books that prohibits camping or storing personal belongings in the public right-of-way.

To that end, at its Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s three-member board of public works will consider a resolution that asks the city council to consider a new ordinance against camping in the public right-of-way.

It’s part of a general effort that the administration is now making, to regulate occupancy of public property—in light of its use by many members of the city’s unhoused community.

In addition to the resolution to be considered by the board of public works on Tuesday, the board of park commissioners is set on Wednesday to consider a change in the current policy on tents in parks during the day. Tents are currently allowed.

But under a proposed policy change to be considered at Wednesday’s special board of park commissioners meeting, tents and other “enclosed structures” would be prohibited in public parks. However, “shade structures” would still be allowed.

The draft ordinance that the board of public works will consider recommending to the city council states:  “It is unlawful to camp in the right-of-way, store personal property in the right-of-way, or otherwise block the right-of-way in a manner that obstructs pedestrian traffic, vehicular traffic, or public travel on any sidewalk, street, or other public right-of-way.”

The penalties that are associated with violating the ordinance are the general fines prescribed in Bloomington city code.  That means someone can be fined up to $2,500 for camping in the public right-of-way.

But the idea behind the ordinance does not appear to be to achieve unobstructed right-of-way through the threat of a fine.

Instead, the ordinance is supposed to make crystal clear the city’s legal ability to immediately remove tents or belongings that are obstructing the right-of-way for use by the general public.

At Monday’s board of public works work session, public works director Adam Wason told the board the ordinance stems in part from a situation along Kirkwood Avenue where an entire sidewalk was blocked.

On that occasion, Wason said after Bloomington police spoke with the prosecutor’s office, they concluded they did not have the ability to take immediate action to clear the sidewalk. Wason told the board, “The entire sidewalk was completely blocked. It was about 90 percent blocked.” He described the obstruction like this: “It was belongings, it was a tent, it was people.”

Based on the wording of the draft ordinance,  some board of public works members wondered if the ordinance could also be used to prosecute the blockage of sidewalks and ADA ramps by shared e-scooters.

The answer from city attorney Mike Rouker and director of public works Adam Wason was the same: Scooters have their own set of rules; and the proposed new ordinance about obstructing the right-of-way is not meant to be applied to scooters.

Also on the Tuesday night meeting agenda for the board of public works is the approval of contracts for three e-scooter companies.

11 thoughts on “It’s not just parks: Bloomington looking to add law against camping in public right-of-way

  1. And, yet, we allow and enable high-end restaurants to block sidewalks and streets on Kirkwood. Where is the equity in that?

    1. Uhhh, well, the restaurants pay the TAxeS that keep the addicts in FREEBIES. There’s the Equity

  2. Agreed! Let’s get the Kirkwood sidewalks cleared of tents, grocery carts, outdoor restaurant seating, and scooters. Let’s also stop blocking Kirkwood Avenue from serving its original purpose as a road for vehicular traffic while we’re at it.

  3. i’m surprised to hear they don’t believe they can enforce a bona fide obstruction of the ROW. i’d like to know more about that. is it only the pedestrian part of the ROW that is exempt from enforcement? i.e., could someone park a tent in the street?

  4. I am pleased that at least shade coverings will be allowed. Was this to protect beach goers?

  5. Let’s create a day shelter similar to Shalom or other such facility where people can gather after having to leave overnight shelters

  6. I, myself, am homeless, at the present time. I do agree with not allowing people to obstruct sidewalks, and right of ways. With that said, I would like to know, if the “mayor”, and “board” are honest enough to answer, without over speaking, or controlling the topic; have you ever tried to keep dry when raining, and a pouring down rain, with just a s “shade” canopy ? It can’t be done. Rich people treat their animals better than that. And, you are a worthless piece to be called a human for making a comment like that. Some people have tents, others do not, but a tent may be the only thing close to a home, at this time. And how dare you claim to be able to just seize someones’ home, and or belongings. If, by chance, you claim any kind of christianism belief, you should know the scripture, where Jesus supposedly spoke, “But, the son of man has nowhere to lay his head”. (HOMELESS !)
    Shining Wolf

  7. You would think a city the size of Bloomington would be much better served if the elected officials tried to communicate with the people this law will affect. Speak with them. Understand they are not there because they want to be. Try to direct them to people/places they may be able to get assistance.

  8. I agree that unpermitted obstructions to public sidewalks can be dangerous; that should include scooters haphazardly strewn into the walking pathways. I also agree there should be permanent housing for all seasons where people can be housed, have access to meals, and be referred to appropriate healthcare. The situation is out of hand and sweeping it under the rug by forceably dismantling tents, criminalizing tents (get real, and legalizing the destruction of said personal property while pretending the houseless population doesn’t exist is unsustainable. The consequences of such irresponsible legislation will speak for itself.

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