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Richmond Hill City Council addresses urban camping
Council photo
Tommy Brookshire, left, and Christy Balbo were sworn in as members of the Richmond Hill Ethics Committee by Mayor E. Harold Fowler at Tuesday's city council meeting. Not shown, but also appointed, was Tom Sawyer. - photo by Steve Scholar

The city of Richmond Hill took its first step Tuesday toward addressing homelessness.

The City Council held the first reading of a “homeless” policy and an “urban camping” ordinance regarding what it says is “improper use of public places within the city.”

City Manager Chris Lovell said the city has appointed a police officer to help advise, counsel and, ultimately, help relocate a homeless person found on public property to an appropriate agency where he or she can find shelter and other needed services.

“It is sad but true that we have to deal with the homeless and those types of things,” Lovell told the council.

Councilman Russ Carpenter wanted it known that, “We’re not kicking them out. We’re relocating them.”

The city policy proposes that the Police Department provide law-enforcement services to the community while protecting the rights and dignity of the homeless. In the first reading of a complementary ordinance, the city has spelled out what constitutes the improper use of city parks, streets and sidewalks by the homeless. The ordinance terms this “urban camping” and says there has been a “marked increase” in the unauthorized use of city facilities.

There have been issues in recent months of people sleeping in J.F. Gregory Park.

The ordinance outlines the penalties for urban camping, which begin at warnings and proceed to the possibility of being arrested. The policy and ordinance will be considered again at the June 21 City Council meeting.

Candice Stewart-Fife, the chairwoman of development and public relations for Family Promise of Bryan County, does not have a problem with the ordinance, but believes it has to go beyond just enforcement.

“It has to be more than just saying, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ because we’re always going to have a homeless situation,” she told the Bryan County News separately. “We have to figure out more ways to get the community involved to help these people.”

Family Promise of Bryan County, which is close to raising enough money to open its own shelter, currently relies on about a dozen churches in Richmond Hill, Pembroke and Ellabell that rotate as “host congregations” for homeless families, providing lodging and meals.

The council also:
• Appointed Christy Balbo, Tom Sawyer and Tommy Brookshire to the city’s Ethics Committee.
• Approved the appointment of Anthony Sardinas to represent the city on the Coastal Region Metropolitan Planning Organization Citizen Advisory Committee.
• Approved a building sign for Charming Chicks Boutique at 2481 Highway 17.
• Approved a building sign for the Ways Station at the Crossroads at 2451 Highway 17.
• Approved the renewal of a contract with the Georgia Department of Corrections for 2017.
• Approved the renewal of a franchise agreement with Coastal Electric Cooperative that increases the amount of revenue paid to the city from 2 percent to 4 percent.

Assistant Editor Ted O’Neil contributed to this report.

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