FORT SMITH — The city is amending ordinance 16-4 of the city’s code, making it unlawful for tents and camping accessories to be on private property without the property owner’s consent effective today.
Tents have been set up for habitation purposes in multiple areas around the city, and they do not meet the minimum requirements of a dwelling unit, according to a press release from the city.
“We wish for all who dwell within the city limits to be safe, have adequate protection from weather and access to the required facilities for hygiene purposes,” the release states. “A tent does not meet the criteria of dwelling unit which is required to be connected to city water and sewer.”
The ordinance already makes it unlawful for any abandoned or inoperable motor vehicle, household appliance or household furniture, exercise equipment, building material or similar items to be openly stored on properties.
“The ordinance will be enforced when a private property owner has marked no trespassing on their property and a tent or camping equipment is present, because it is without the property owner’s approval,” City Administrator Carl Geffken clarified. “Or when a property owner calls to have a tent removed from their property. Fort Smith Municipal Code also defines the conditions that must be in place for a building, structure or property to be considered legally habitable, and a tent does not meet that standard.”
The city of Little Rock does not include tents as part of its care of premises ordinance.
The city of Fayetteville does not have a specific care of premises ordinance, but does ban camping in city parks without a permit.
Chris Joannides, executive director of the Hope Campus, said he’s not sure how the ordinance will affect the homeless people that use its facility.
“I am of the belief that the folks that stay outside will continue to stay outside, regardless of a ‘tent ban,’” Joannides said. “This select group of folks will just move upstream again, so to speak, and stay out of the visual sights.”
Joannides said he would like the city to try a sanctioned camp area to see if that reduces encampments elsewhere, but that a select group would likely not use it and camp where they want anyway. He said it’s a complicated issue that the city and area homeless services face.
Hope Campus and Next Step Homeless Services did their annual count of homeless people in Fort Smith at the beginning of 2022. The two groups said in February there were 376 individuals counted as homeless, 164 of whom hadn’t slept at a shelter or a friend’s house the night before — an overall 17% increase from 2021.
Monica Brich may be reached by email at [email protected] .