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About the recently-approved ordinance on unauthorized camping

Posted Sept. 24, 2019

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The City Council has approved an ordinance change that makes it easier for police and code compliance officers to address unauthorized camping on private property.

Here you’ll find answers to many of the most frequently asked questions about the new ordinance and how it will be enforced.

Q. What changes under the new ordinance?
A. Under the new ordinance, a camper must provide a police officer with written authorization to camp on a commercial property or on a developed or vacant residential property. In this case, authorization would be express written permission from the property owner or the owner’s agent.

Q. How is that different from the previous law?
A. Under the criminal trespass statute, a property owner is required to give notice that the camping is not permitted. Accordingly, if someone is camping on private property, the city could not ask the camper to leave unless it could be determined that the property owner had given notice that the camping is not permitted. That can be problematic where camping occurs on properties with owners who are difficult to reach or who are unresponsive to city officials. The new ordinance shifts the burden of providing documentation to the camper.

Q. What are the penalties for illegal camping under the new ordinance?
A. A person who violates the ordinance can be fined up to $500 and can be removed from the property. This is a misdemeanor violation. However, keep in mind that citations and fines are not mandatory and will be used as a last resort. The emphasis will be on educating campers about other housing alternatives and connecting them to available resources. Examples of available services may be found at FortWorthTexas.gov/DirectionsHome/.

Q. Is the Police Homeless Outreach Programs and Enforcement (HOPE) Unit currently issuing citations to campers?
A. None have been written so far. The HOPE unit follows a relationship-based style of policing, and the emphasis is on educating campers about housing options and connecting them to available services.

Q. What properties does the new ordinance apply to?
A. All commercial properties as well as both developed and vacant residential properties. A vacant residential property is one without a permanent dwelling or drinkable water source and restroom facilities.

Q. What about people living in a vehicle parked on private property?
A. Yes, the new ordinance affects those situations, too. However, like other types of camping, camping in vehicles is allowed with the authorization of the property owner. When officers encounter those camping in vehicles, the emphasis is on educating campers about more permanent housing options and connecting them to available services.

Q. Does this ordinance apply to public property?
A. No.

Q. Why was this ordinance change needed?
A. Unauthorized camps can create public health threats, can be fire hazards and may lead to lower property values. Community members had requested a way to prevent camping on commercial property. These requests came from neighborhoods, residents and businesses. Many citizens had expressed frustration because the criminal trespass statute would sometimes not allow officers to require campers to leave a property.

Q. What efforts are in place to move illegal campers into permanent housing?
A. This ordinance change actually makes it easier for officers to steer homeless people toward help. In August, Acting Police Chief Ed Kraus authorized a special unit of the Fort Worth Police Department — the Homeless Outreach Programs and Enforcement Unit, or HOPE — to work with outreach teams and community partners to first connect campers to services and encourage campers to seek permanent housing and reserve enforcement as a last resort. This specialized unit responds to unhoused individuals living in alternative situations such as encampments, vehicles, streets or vacant structures.

For more information about the HOPE Unit, contact Police Lt. Ladd at Amy.Ladd@FortWorthTexas.gov.

To report a campsite, contact Officer Kuzenka at Michael.Kuzenka@FortWorthTexas.gov.

If you or your organization is interested in assisting those experiencing homelessness, contact Directions Home Manager, Tara Perez at Tara.Perez@FortWorthTexas.gov or visit FortWorthTexas.gov/DirectionsHome/.

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