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Hagerstown council scraps ordinance targeting homeless

November 28, 2007|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday dumped an ordinance from its agenda that, if passed, would have made it illegal for people to live in vehicles parked on public property.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, several people spoke against the proposal, saying it discriminated against the homeless.

Hagerstown resident James Devine told the council that many people don't choose to be homeless and shouldn't be punished as a result. Devine, who lives in a vehicle, said he has no family or friends to take him in and struggles to survive.

Furthermore, homeless people cannot afford to make a down payment on an apartment, let alone a $250 penalty that the proposed ordinance would have imposed, he said. The ordinance also carried a sentence of up to 60 days in jail.

Devine claimed to quote the courts by saying, "You cannot make a criminal ordinance out of something that isn't criminal," and added it isn't a criminal offense to lie down in your car.

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The council addressed the audience after listening to the public discussion.

"I will not support an ordinance that says we'll fine anyone for living in their car," Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean said.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said the issue is more of a social problem than a criminal one, and people shouldn't be punished because they can't afford a roof over their head.

Cromer suggested that the council shouldn't consider such a proposal in the future.

"Hopefully we won't see it rear its ugly head again," she said.

The ordinance was raised earlier this month when Police Chief Arthur Smith said the police department was being forced to spend too much time responding to complaints about homeless people living in their vehicles.

Because the city doesn't have an ordinance that governs the issue, Smith said the police department couldn't act on the complaints.

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