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In 4-1 vote, NHC Commissioners pass ordinance aimed at homeless people sleeping on county property

At Monday’s New Hanover County Board of Commissioners meeting, board members voted to update an ordinance with language designed to keep the homeless off the county-owned downtown library property.

Commissioners have wrangled with the issue for over a year and have repeatedly cited the public outcry over safety and sanitation issues at the library.

The amendment technically covers all county property, but is aimed at the county library. The new policy effectively criminalizes sleeping on county property and makes the removal of personal belongings from the property easier. Sleeping on county property is prohibited from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. and tents and sleeping materials like sleeping bags of any kind are prohibited.

Homeless individuals that violate the ordinance could face trespassing charges; that’s a third-degree misdemeanor, which could mean a $200 fine and up to 20 days in jail. According to the county, this would only be as a “very last resort.”

Advocates who came to the county meeting didn’t get the chance to share their concerns with the commissioners — like Tony Perez, who operates Living Hope Street Ministry.

“I’m really disappointed. Quite frankly, I can’t fathom how the outcome today will impact our friends on the streets," Perez said.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield was the only dissenting vote. He also voted against the first reading of the amendment last month.

Barfield was also critical of a similar version of the amendment proposed last year. He was the sole dissenting vote in March of 2022, but by the time of the second reading a month later, the board had largely soured on the idea. At the time, some commissioners expressed interest in exploring other solutions to the homelessness issue at the library, including collaborating with the City of Wilmington. That led to the 'Getting Home,' program, which pairs county social workers with City of Wilmington police officers. One of Barfield's objections to the more recent amendment was that the Getting Home program had not been given sufficient time to make an impact.

According to a county spokesperson, the amendment is effective immediately. However, enforcement will be delayed to give the county time to inform those affected by the new policy.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY and graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Her story focus revolves her deep care for children, young adults and mental health. You can reach her at cmojica@whqr.org.