• Laws regarding homeless spark debate in north Georgia city

    Updated:
    ROME, Ga. (AP) - New laws regarding homelessness have sparked a community conversation in a northwest Georgia city.

    The Rome City Commission is considering ordinances that would ban "urban camping" and regulate panhandling.

    There have been complaints about people begging for money at stoplights and outside of shops; and about garbage and human waste left in public spaces, The Rome News-Tribune reported .

    Police officers need clearer direction about how to deal with people living on the streets, Rome Police Chief Denise Downer-McKinney said.

    "We're not trying to criminalize our homeless," Downer-McKinney told city commissioners recently. "We feed them. We clothe them. My church is out there, our officers give them coats."

    However, the trash is an issue, the police chief said.

    "Public works crews have to go clean that up when they could be doing something else," she said.

    Two proposed Rome ordinances have been adopted recently in a number of northwest Georgia communities, the newspaper reported.

    In Rome, there were preliminary plans to enact the new laws later this month. However, City Manager Sammy Rich said the board wants to get more input first.

    Concerns have been expressed about targeting certain areas, and where the homeless will go if they are forced out. City Commissioner Jamie Doss said he spoke with Capt. Jason Smith of The Salvation Army about that issue.

    "He said there are three big camp sites and if we do close them, we need an alternate place for these people to go," Doss said.

    Devon Smyth, executive director for The Davies Shelters, noted that a January count turned up over 200 "unsheltered" homeless people in Floyd County. That means they don't even have a friend's couch or car to sleep in.

    The problem has been growing since Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital was shuttered by the state eight years ago, he said.

    "We appreciate the police, but we need to be mindful," Smyth said. "A huge population of the mentally ill were let out in 2011. Many are abusing substances to self-medicate and complications arise."

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    Information from: Rome News-Tribune, http://www.romenews-tribune.com

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