Rochester bans camping on city property in attempt to curb homeless encampments

Two people gather their belongings after sleeping the night in the skyway
Two people begin to gather their belongings after sleeping the night in the skyway February in downtown Rochester
Ken Klotzbach | Rochester Post Bulletin 2019

The Rochester City Council passed an ordinance Monday that prohibits camping on city property and city right-of-ways. It also gives Rochester City Police enforcing authority. 

The vote was 4 to 3.

Council member Patrick Keane voted in favor of the ordinance. He said he doesn’t believe the ordinance is the solution to homelessness, but he supports the need for the ordinance.  

“At this point, I’m backing this ordinance because I trust the leadership of our law enforcement,” Keane said. “I trust the officers that are in the street and the empathy they have for the people they’re dealing with in the streets.”

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The vote on Monday night was preceded by lively discussion of the proposal. Council member Molly Dennis had moved to deny the ordinance and pleaded on behalf of the unhoused.

“We need to revisit this,” she said. “We need to make sure that we are looking through the eyes of people who are going to be impacted by this incredibly — I believe — regressive policy that’s going to do more harm than good."

She finished her plea. “We cannot, I think, in good conscience add to the struggles [of the homeless] by enforcing this policy or by passing this policy.”

Before the vote, Keane was approached by social workers upset with the proposal, he said. He realized, Keane added, he is unaware of the complex issue of encampments.

Also, of the related concerns such as antisocial behavior, addiction and mental illness. But, he added, “law enforcement agents have asked us for the tools they need to deal with the people who live in our streets.” 

There will be a joint meeting of the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners and the city council to discuss the homelessness issue Wednesday at 2 p.m. in the Mayo Civic Center.