The Media School

Since ordinance was struck down, City Council debates about how to handle sleeping in parks

April 21st, 2021 by
Photograph by Hannah Cohen

Stephen Volan, District Six representative on the Bloomington City Council, voted yes for the ordinance that would legalize people sleeping in the parks. He gave a speech at the City Council meeting criticizing his collogues for voting against the ordinance.

After being out of town during the week of March 3, Liz McCrea returned to the news that an ordinance proposed by the city council to legalize sleeping in parks had been struck down. McCrea, 77, is a retired IU professor who has served as a volunteer on the board on New Hope for Families for the past six years.

McCrea said she concluded the biggest flaw was not enough collaboration between the two sides. There needed to be more bridge building so the ordinance could pass.

“I think any mature community needs to think about those on the margins in that community, and the homeless are certainly on those margins,” she said. “So I think any mature community has to think about what they can do to keep those people safe.”

McCrea and other believe legalizing sleeping in public spaces needs to be a collaboration from both sides to create a solution to keep all residents safe.

On Dec. 9, 2020, Mayor John Hamilton ordered Seminary Park to be cleared after 11 p.m. Many homeless returned and found their items were damaged and important documents were destroyed. The park was again cleared on Jan. 14.

Photograph by Hannah Cohen

Emily Pike, executive director of New Hope and a chair of the South-Central Housing Network, supported the ordinance. Now that the ordinance did not pass, she is working with members of the city council to come up with a new solution.

In response, City Council Members Matt Flaherty, Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Kate Rosenbarger wrote an ordinance that proposed the city either identify a place for people to sleep outside or allow it in any park.

Emily Pike, executive director of New Hope and a chair of the South-Central Housing Network, a group of agencies that help people with housing insecurity, supports the proposed ordinance.

“The trouble right now is that if there are not enough shelter beds,” she said. “There isn’t a legal place for people to sleep when they are homeless.”

The March 3 City Council meeting lasted for nine hours over zoom, the vote was 4-4 and the ordinance did not pass. Flaherty, Piedmont-Smith, Rosenbarger, and Stephen Volan voted yes. Dave Rollo, Ron Smith, Sue Sgambelluri, and Susan Sandberg voted no.

Council President Jim Sims could not attend meeting due to a family tragedy but according to Volan, his vote would most likely have been against the ordinance. And, even if if had received the five votes it needed to pass, Mayor Hamilton would most likely have vetoed it.

During the meeting, council members lashed out at each other, and Volan criticized those who opposed the ordinance. He was upset at those who opposed the ordinance because he believed it was for the wrong reasons, and their arguments were weak.

“Ironically, it’s all about decriminalizing sleep, and they even prevented the people who were present that night from sleeping. It’s respectable to say no to this, but the way in which they said no showed they were personally offended by it.” – Stephen Volan, District Six representative, Bloomington City Council

“Ironically, it’s all about decriminalizing sleep, and they even prevented the people who were present that night from sleeping,” he said. “It’s respectable to say no to this, but the way in which they said no showed they were personally offended by it.”

Pike said people from both sides are collaborating on a new ordinance to address the issue. She hopes that an agreement can be made, and an important conversation will begin about what to do to best provide for the homeless population of Bloomington.

“I do think that our City Council wants to be collaborative, and they want to support people impacted by homelessness,” she said. “They want to do that in a way that is also fair and reasonable for the rest of our community.”

Once the council and mayor figure out how to decriminalize sleep, Pike said Bloomington should be focused on a housing-first model. This means getting people off of the streets, into housing and then offering continued support so they become self-sufficient.

“This ordinance and any effort to decriminalize sleeping outdoors is not something that’s gunna fix our homeless problem in Bloomington,” she said. “And it is not something that is going to help people be housed. It is something that provides relief for these people and it is something that we see as a kind of human right issue.”