New Hanover commissioners continue discussing ordinance banning people from sleeping on county property

NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — After March’s New Hanover County Commission meeting, an ordinance that could keep people from sleeping on county property and leaving belongings  behind is in discussion.

The original ordinance meant anyone found sleeping on county property between certain hours could be fined $50, but that fine was quickly removed.

“If I’m homeless, where am I going to get 50 dollars from is my first question,” Commissioner Jonathan Barfield asked in the meeting.

If passed, no one could sleep on county property from 10pm to 7am and any items left unattended for more than two hours could be thrown out. This applies to all county property, including parks and the county library.

The ordinance is meant to keep county buildings and land safe and clean. According to the presentation, homeless people do loiter sleep near the county’s public library. Staff said the many belongings stowed there, along with empty alcohol bottles, syringes, and human waste could be a public safety issue.

“We aren’t there yet with helping in every single capacity that we can, but we also have a responsibility to all of our citizens to not have a health hazard,” said Commission Chair Deb Hays.

But with limited space in New Hanover County’s shelters, the Salvation Army moving locations, and limited shelters for people actively struggling with addiction, Commissioner Jonathan Barfield believes the ordinance deserved more discussion

He continued in the meeting, “I understand that there’s debris that’s left behind. But I think we need to be looking at how we’re going to address solving the problem and not create another problem?”

First Fruit Ministries is one of the county’s only wet shelters, creating a place for homeless people under the influence to stay. While its founder, Lee Anna Stoker says she respects the county’s dedication to solving tough problems.

“If you leave no way for people to be successful, then people are going to fail,” Stoker said.

A big proponent for more affordable housing, believes the answer to the problem will be more complicated than banning people from sleeping in certain areas.

“People will fall asleep,” she said. “They’re going to sleep somewhere. If they have no house, and affordable housing is a long term solution, they will be sleeping somewhere. And if it isn’t on your park bench, it is on somebody’s front porch.”

New Hanover County Commissioners will continue to discuss this ordinance in future meetings, along with longer term ways to solve the problem.

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