Will Frederick ban on park sleeping punish homelessness?

There is no rest for two sides of a sleeping ban in Frederick parks.

City aldermen and social activists have not come to an agreement on whether a new draft ordinance will deny First Amendment rights and punish the homeless. Aldermen are taking another look today at a way to keep the parks open for recreation and closed for overnight sleeping, said Aldermen Karen Young in a telephone interview.

“Some residents are eager for us to do something,” she said.

Occupy Frederick members are preparing to oppose the latest draft today, Annette Breiling of Occupy said in an email. She does not accept the city’s explanation that the ordinance is designed to keep parks clean and sanitary for public recreation and enjoyment.

Aldermen postponed adopting a similar ordinance last month after Occupy Frederick members said the city was attempting to criminalize homelessness and prevent protesters from expressing themselves.

“First of all, we acknowledge that the latest draft is less restrictive than the previous draft, but is still problematic,” Breiling said.

“I believe citizens’ rights need to be protected to camp in one of the city parks as a form of expression — to draw attention to an issue of concern,” Breiling said.

“I view camping (which includes sleeping at night) as an important vehicle to speak freely and petition government for redress of grievances,” she said.

The proposed ordinance makes sleeping in the parks a misdemeanor. Young said she expected police to use discretion in enforcement, whether it is someone who nods off while sunbathing or someone who did not know the rules.

“I’m confident the police will use good judgment,” she said.

A few chronically homeless people, several of whom are known to local agencies that assist them, create the situation that disturbs businesses and residents near Carroll Creek, Young said.

Frederick Community Action Agency staff surveyed the downtown area recently for sleeping homeless people and reported finding about six.

“There’s a variety of issues associated with these people,” Young said.

In some cases, alcohol, drug abuse and harassing behavior get them rejected from shelters, which are available, Young said. Sleeping and defecating in the park create an unhealthy environment for everyone, she said.

“There are far better options than sleeping along the creek,” Young said.

Occupy member Dylan Petrohilos wrote in an email that it is time for the city to “tackle homelessness.”

Aldermen and Mike Spurrier, director of the Community Action Agency, will discuss the homeless statistics for the city and region at the board’s July 18 workshop.

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