Police chief reviews illegal camping ordinance

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Leavenworth city commissioners may soon make it illegal to camp on city property or public right-of-ways.

A proposed illegal camping ordinance is aimed at addressing homeless encampments in the city.

Police Chief Pat Kitchens reviewed the proposed ordinance Tuesday during a study session of the Leavenworth City Commission.

Kitchens said city officials have seen an uptick in homeless encampments during the last six months. He described homeless encampments as groups of people staying for long periods of time in public places.

He said there have been recent encampments under bridges and at Bob Dougherty Park.

He said these issues are not new, but there has seemed to be more activity in recent months.

"It is important for you to hear me say we are not going to arrest our way out of homelessness," Kitchens said.

He said homelessness is a broad issue, but law enforcement has a role to play.

"I always start these conversations with everybody that it is not illegal to be homeless," Kitchens said. "It is not illegal to be in a public place."

He said the Police Department does have some tools to address homeless encampments such as trespassing laws and established park hours.

But he said the proposed ordinance may help close a gap that exists in the city's ordinances.

The city already prohibits overnight camping in parks. But the proposed ordinance would prohibit camping on public property in general.

The proposed ordinance includes an exclusion for allowing people to camp at the campground at Riverfront Park. The ordinance also would allow the city manager to grant permission for camping on public property for special events.

The proposed ordinance also would prohibit people from camping "within 10 feet from any doorway, loading dock, stairway, or fire escape."

Kitchens said this would address issues in the downtown area involving people sleeping in doorways.

The proposed ordinance also would make it illegal for people to camp on private property in the city without the consent of the property owner.

Kitchens said the proposed ordinance was modeled after similar ordinances that already are in place in Lawrence and Topeka.

The ordinance proposed for the city of Leavenworth would allow violators to be fined up to $500 or sentenced to jail for no more than 30 days.

Mayor Nancy Bauder questioned whether a homeless person should be fined $500.

Commissioner Mark Preisinger suggested streamlining the language of the ordinance to state that camping will only be allowed at Riverfront Park unless permission is granted for a special event.

Kitchens said he can review possible changes with the city prosecutor.

No action was taken by commissioners during Tuesday's study session.

Kitchens said Wednesday that the proposal may be brought back to commissioners during a July 27 regular meeting.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth Commission:

• Received an overview of a proposed 2022 operating budget from the city and a proposed updated capital improvements program.

City Manager Paul Kramer made the budget presentation. Commissioners are scheduled to review the budget during a special meeting July 16.