ISSUE: Immediate Negative Impact of Homelessness
Complaints regarding the negative impact of homelessness on the downtown area have become more prominent in recent months. Complaints generally fall into six behavior related categories: 1) panhandling;
2) loitering / congregating;
4) group feeding of the homeless from vehicles or in public parks;
5) sanitary complaints including public urination, littering, etc.; and
6) obstruction of sidewalks. To complainants these behaviors are threatening, harmful to businesses, an impediment for urban redevelopment, and are generally unpleasant.
Citations for ordinances are available in the Planning Department.
The Oklahoma City Municipal Code contains permanent ordinances that address each of the homeless-related behavior categories identified above. The relevant ordinances are referenced below. Ordinances from other municipalities are provided as place specific comparative practices.
1. Panhandling restrictions:
Oklahoma City has an ordinance prohibiting aggressive begging, panhandling, and soliciting under § 30-428 of the Oklahoma City Municipal Code. At certain hours of the day, and in certain locations warranting harm, panhandling is prohibited. Other peer cities have similar aggressive panhandling ordinances, although each city defines aggressive conduct differently.
Philadelphia has an ordinance creating zones for restricted sidewalk behavior. In the specified zones, aggressive panhandling is prohibited. Anecdotally, the ordinance has proven effective at curtailing even modest panhandling behavior.
Orlando has an ordinance requiring anyone wishing to panhandle on the streets to wear a panhandling permit issued by the police department. Persons who hold permits are restricted from panhandling in certain areas--including bus depots, train stations, public parks, and sports arenas--and are subject to a lengthy set of guidelines.
2. Loitering/congregating restrictions:
Oklahoma City has an ordinance prohibiting crowds from obstructing streets and
sidewalks under § 50-7 of the municipal code. Oklahoma City does not have an
ordinance concerning loitering. Columbus, Tucson, and Tulsa similarly have no loitering ordinances.
Colorado Springs has an ordinance prohibiting loitering that warrants alarm (for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity).
Philadelphia has an ordinance prohibiting loitering in certain underground and elevated areas, railroad passenger stations, and the stairs which lead to them.
Oklahoma City has an ordinance under § 30-31 of the municipal code prohibiting
persons from trespassing on public or private property. Trespass includes the violation of a request to leave, duly posted signage, or identified hours of operation.
4. Public Feedings in Parks or on Private Property:
Oklahoma City has an ordinance prohibiting the distribution of food from a vehicle without a license under § 21-416 of the municipal code. The City also has an ordinance prohibiting littering on public property under § 27-2 of the code.
Colorado Springs and Columbus have ordinances requiring permits for the distribution of any foodstuffs.
Tucson and Tulsa have ordinances specific to parks which prohibit the sale or giving away of food without a permit on park premises.
5. Sanitary Complaints Including Public Urination, Littering, etc.:
Oklahoma City has an ordinance prohibiting the deposit of refuse on public or private property under § 24-7 of the municipal code. Oklahoma City does not specifically address issues of public urination, but regulates the issue through the prohibition of public indecency under § 30-158 of the code.
Colorado Springs, Columbus, Philadelphia, Tucson, and Tulsa have ordinances
prohibiting both littering and the use of public places as a toilet.
6. Sleeping on or Obstructing the Sidewalk:
Oklahoma City has an ordinance prohibiting the obstruction of streets and sidewalks under § 50-5 of the municipal code.
Colorado Springs, Philadelphia, and Tucson have ordinances creating zones for
restricted sidewalk behavior. In the specific zones, lying and sitting on the sidewalk is prohibited.
FURTHER ANALYSIS OF CURRENT PRACTICE:
Committee members discussed the relevancy and enforcement procedures of the above ordinances with the Oklahoma City Police Department and Municipal Counselor’s office. The following conclusions were developed from these discussions:
The Police Department investigates or enforces all reported or observed violations of the law. The police also work to educate the community about the scope of the current laws, proper responses to apparent violations, and crosscutting citizen rights. It is recognized that the police face a difficult challenge meeting the expectations and sometimes conflicting demands of the political, business and community leaders, advocates for the homeless, social service providers and the homeless population.
The Oklahoma City Municipal Counselor’s office is responsible for prosecution of
violations of City ordinances in the Municipal Court, and is responsible for preparing the legal opinions and ordinances that have been adopted by City Council and recorded in the Municipal Code. An informal legal opinion from the Municipal Counselor’s office contends codified OKC ordinances concerning homeless-related behaviors are based on the limits of what local, state and constitutional law allow. With this in mind, the comparative practices of other cities may not be replicable in the OKC context.
Through the process of this discussion, the committee has come to the realization that enforcement alone will not reduce the negative impacts of homelessness. Continued enforcement or legislation should be pursued until more sustainable solutions and resources, such as those proposed in the balance of this report have been put in place.
_ Efforts should be directed at concentrating homeless services outside of the downtown core. Indirectly this would relocate the homeless population and divert negative behaviors, which tend to be prominent in areas where homeless services are abundant and where the primary needs of the homeless can be met.
_ The Committee recognizes that this is a difficult issue that demands cooperative effort and coordination with the business community, other private sector interests, the police department, planning department, the municipal counselor’s office and the Mayor and City Council.
_ Create a brochure summarizing the current ordinances, limitations to
enforcement and a proper response to violations; distribute this to local
businesses, the general public and homeless service providers as an
informational public service.
_ Raise the necessary funds to develop a comprehensive service and resource
center, including a day shelter for the homeless at a location outside of and
sufficiently buffered from the downtown redevelopment area.
_ City staff or other appointed representatives should work with state legislators to raise awareness of the relationship between homelessness, incarceration and
the limitations of local correctional facilities.
ISSUE: Relocation of Homeless Services
The successes of MAPS and MAPS for Kids have greatly increased interest in
redeveloping downtown. This may result in the need for relocation of shelters and
service agencies that have historically concentrated in the areas west and north of downtown. Some will be directly affected by public improvements associated with the Core to Shore project and others may be approached by private developers interested in purchasing their land. Additionally some homeless service providers have expressed an interest in relocating to the Homeless Alliance’s WestTown Resource Center.
Members of the taskforce began by identifying and mapping the shelters and homeless service providers located around the downtown area.
The Salvation Army is located in the area that has been proposed through the Core to Shore planning process to be redeveloped as a large park. City planners have met preliminarily with staff from Salvation Army about the potential need for relocation. Four service provider agencies that either directly serve the homeless population or count the homeless as a significant part of their larger clientele (Healing Hands, Traveler’s Aid, DRI, City Care through its City Church feeding site) are also in or near the redevelopment area.
Relocation of the City Rescue Mission, might only be relevant in a scenario where redevelopment around its property results in
1) a significant buyout by a private interest or
2) a limit to expansion of the current location (City Rescue Mission is serving beyond capacity, regularly accommodating over 450 individuals a night in a facility initially designed for 350).
_ Develop a strategy to enhance the compatibility if a service provider or shelter
decides to remain at its current location.
_ Identify city resources that may be needed in the next five to seven years to
assist the relocation effort for agencies that will be required or willing to move.
_ Reduce the need for City Rescue Mission’s emergency housing capacity by
increasing scattered-site permanent housing options. Such a solution would
lessen the congregating traffic and loitering occurring at the location.
_ City staff should continue to examine the:
o level of benefit relocation would have to shelters, service providers,
and the WestTown resource center level of benefit that such a move would have on the ability to serve the target clientele
o individual service provider’s ability to make such a move
As redevelopment pressure continues to increase, it is recommended that city
staff remain available to assist organizations affected by relocation.
Successful relocation of homeless services has been experienced in the cities of Reno, Nevada and Portland, Oregon.
ISSUE: Inefficient or misdirected giving
Individuals, churches and unaffiliated organizations, intending to help the homeless, often provide well-meaning but ineffective assistance. Examples include handing out blankets, which inadvertently encourages the recipients to stay outdoors; feeding in public places, which leads to complaints of littering and other concerns.
Coordinated giving for identified needs is shown to solve long-term issues of
The Homeless Alliance sponsors a “Real Change” initiative to provide travel and meal coupons to the homeless. Direct donations of cash may be used by the homeless for unintended purposes; the “Real Change” voucher is a positive alternative. The Homeless Alliance uses revenue generated from the sale of the vouchers to support long-term solution to homelessness, including development of the WestTown Resource Center and identification of additional units of permanent supportive housing.
Other cities, usually led by the downtown business community, have carried out Public Service campaigns discouraging the handing out of spare change while simultaneously encouraging more meaningful donations to established social service providers. For example, Philadelphia ran a successful public service campaign using the tagline, “The More You Give Change the More Things Stay the Same.”
Similarly, Columbus calls its campaign “Put Your Change Where You Can Make One.”
The Columbus Downtown Development Corporation hosts a link on its website to a list of all relevant service providers and their most common needs. The campaign is advertised throughout downtown on bus shelters, before movies at the downtown theater, and on all forms of public transportation.
_ Wage a prominent, multimedia campaign through agencies such as ACOG,
Downtown OKC, and others to accomplish the following goals:
o raise awareness of homelessness issues among the general public
o identify real needs and opportunities to donate for real change
Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force
o reduce the stigma of homelessness and increase awareness of
facts such as families are the fastest growing group of homeless in
Oklahoma City, there are an estimated 1,500 homeless children in
the public school system, and that 20% of homeless adults are
o promote the ongoing work of homeless shelters and service