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Lula approves new restrictions on homeless people sleeping, camping in public

Lula City Council members initially hesitated to implement an ordinance that will penalize homeless people for sleeping or camping on public property. 

But after an amendment that softens punishments for offenders, the city council approved the urban camping ordinance unanimously. 

The ordinance will make it illegal to camp, sleep or store property in public parks, along roads and under bridges in the city. Offenders must be given a written or verbal warning before being arrested. 

The amendment includes a slight change to warnings and punishments for offenders, requiring that a “private or public health agency has been notified to attempt to assist the person issued the warning.”

It also removes a $1,000 fine for offenders, which was part of the original proposal, but offenders will still be subject to six months in prison. 

City officials and residents have said the homeless population in Lula has increased over the last year with increased complaints about trespassing and other related offenses. 

The amendment was written after council members couldn’t make a decision on the ordinance last month after hearing from residents who were split on the issue. Some described the homeless issue in the city as an addiction problem that would not be solved with this ordinance, while others said the city would be safer if homeless people were pushed out of the city. 

In April, council members Denise Shockley and Lamb Griffin abstained from the vote, Matt Hamby voted against it, and Gene Bramlett and Garnett Smith voted in favor. 

Shockley told The Times she was more comfortable with the ordinance after the fine was dropped and offenders would only be punished after they denied help. But what constitutes a “private or public health agency” is still to be determined, she said. 

“We’re working, getting information from a few different agencies, so that hasn’t been narrowed down as of yet,” Shockley said. 

City officials have had conversations with Ninth District Opportunity, an organization that provides resources for homeless people in Gainesville, Shockley said.