The city of Arnold has clarified a prohibition against camping on public property that already was on the books, and it has placed new restrictions on when private property can be used for camping.
City officials said they wanted to strengthen the law restricting camping in Arnold because of recent national stories about homeless populations living in tents.
“I can’t say we have had any kind of major problem with people camping where they shouldn’t or causing problems by camping, but certainly, that is happening in other places,” City Administrator Bryan Richison said. “We want to be proactive so if we have a situation like that occur, we have something to fall back on to address it.”
City Council members voted 7-0 Dec. 15 to approve the new camping rules. Ward 1 Councilman Jason Fulbright was not at the meeting when the vote was held.
The new law clearly states that camping is not allowed on public property, such as parks, without obtaining a temporary permit from Arnold.
Community Development Director David Bookless said the language previously on the books only addressed sleeping or spending extended periods of time on public property and did not say setting up a tent was not allowed on public property.
“It was there and could have been enforced, but it wasn’t in plain English that everyone could understand,” Bookless said.
The new law also restricts camping on private property, like backyards or church or school property, to no more than two consecutive nights and for a maximum of two times per month, essentially limiting camping on private property to four times in a one-month period.
However, those who want to camp on private property for longer periods of time may apply to the city for a permit.
“Previously the language spoke to public property only,” Bookless said. “The idea there was we don’t want to take away from people’s ability to enjoy their property, but there can be folks who abuse the system. Imagine if your neighbor allowed people to set up camp in their backyard, and they are living there. There are hygiene issues from people living in a backyard.”
He also said city officials wanted to make the new law flexible enough to allow homeowners to enjoy their property as they want, allow organizations to hold camping events on their properties and give organizations opportunities to camp on public property with permission.
“If somebody’s kids want to camp out in the backyard a couple of weekends in a month over the summer, this (the new law) is not going to affect them,” Bookless said. “We left enough flexibility in there to say if the Boy Scouts wanted to have an event at Arnold City Park or something like that, they can work with the city to get that scheduled, or if a church wanted to do something on its property, they could to that.”
The penalty for camping illegally may be a fine of up to $500 and a possibly jail sentence of up to 90 days.
Arnold Police Chief Brian Carroll said if his officers are called to investigate a report about illegal camping, the department will first verify if a special permit has been issued to allow the camping. If there is not a permit, the officer will try to talk with the campers and get them to leave on their own.
“Since the majority of these encounters may involve a homeless person, the responding officer will inform the subject of the ordinance and give this person time to remove the tent and belongings,” he said. “Every effort will be made to provide this individual with resources that are available throughout the area. Officers can also refer these individuals to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Homeless Outreach Team for additional assistance. Individuals who refuse to comply with the ordinance may be subject to a citation.
“With regards to tents and storage of personal property on private property, our agency will work with the community development department to research complaints of this nature. We will also assist with any needed investigation.”
According to a report from the Sheriff’s Office Homeless Outreach Team, which studied homelessness in the county from Jan. 1, 2022, through June, 30, 2022, there were 16 cases of homelessness in Arnold, and contact was made with seven people in the city who were considered homeless.
Of those seven, six were living outdoors and one was living in a hotel, the report said.
Arnold Police reported that between July 1, 2022, and Dec. 31, 2022, they had 29 contacts with a total of 19 people who were considered homeless, Carroll said.
Richison said he knows there are numerous reasons or problems that lead to people being homeless and living in a tent, but he believes the city needs to protect everyone from problems that can cause.
“It is not a good thing for public health for people to live long term in campsites,” he said. “We don’t want people living in tents. It is not sanitary. Often, they do it on property they don’t have permission to be on or shouldn’t be on.”
Bookless said city officials are working to find areas in Arnold that organizations may possibly use to provide services to the homeless population.
“We are cognizant that homelessness is a serious issue, and we will have the Planning Commission look at it and then the council for the appropriate zoning districts for various services that might be offered to folks in need,” he said.