City Council, community debate trespassing ordinance

 Members of Huntington City Council met Monday night when they debated a new trespassing ordinance. 

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Ted Kluemper, modified previous articles and ordinances that allow jail time and fines up to $500 as a potential penalty for trespassing onto property with “No Trespassing” signs. 

City Councilman Charles Shaw said he and his family have been bothered by homeless people trying to keep warm in vacant homes. 

“As passionate as I am about homelessness, people staying in vacant properties and setting fires trying to keep warm will never be a solution,” Shaw said. 

Shaw said waking up in the middle of the night to a house burning down beside them was scary. 

“I’d just like, for the record, to say that we need a better solution then letting them stay in vacant properties,” Shaw said. 

Groups looking to help with homelessness in Huntington, such as the On the Streets Committee, gave a statement expressing concerns about the new and revised ordinance. 

The statement began with: “To our public officials, as a community group primarily concerned with the welfare and self-reformation of our neighbors who have been relegated to the streets, and emergency shelters, we are compelled to comment on the councils revision of a trespassing ordinance.” 

The OTSC said that requiring jail time as a punishment is not an effective solution to the problem of homelessness in the city. 

“In the light of mass movements to find alternatives to the outdated policies, Huntington City Council chooses to fixate on punishment rather than on solution,” an OTSC member said. 

OTSC members also said there is a lack of affordable housing available for the homeless. 

“Year after year, the most vulnerable are squeezed tighter and tighter, leading to endless displacement,” one member said. 

OTSC members pass out supplies and food to those in need at least once a week, and recently they have been doing work on the floodwall and cleaning up and rebuilding temporary sleeping areas for poverty-stricken citizens. 

The committee also has approached city officials about repealing ordinances that unconstitutionally discriminate against poor and homeless people, according to a representative of the committee. Recently, the committee raised enough money to rent a temporary handwash station at the Riverfront Park camps, and committee members are asking Marshall students and community members to join them while they work to clean and fight homelessness in Huntington. 

City Council concluded that jail-time is a possible punishment now, but it is not the police department’s main goal, according to Mike Shockley, Vice Chairman. 

Sequoia Ware can be contacted at [email protected]