An ordinance outlawing homeless campsites is going to the Modesto City Council for possible approval Tuesday.
Last month, three council members Dave Lopez, John Gunderson and Dave Geer gave approval at a subcommittee meeting for police officials to write the ordinance. It aims to eliminate makeshift camps that, according to authorities, increasingly appear on public and private property.
Police would discourage unauthorized camping by citing homeless people on misdemeanor charges. Those convicted could be sentenced to jail or probation.
A growing number of cities are adopting ordinances that, in the words of homeless advocates, are criminalizing the basic survival acts of the homeless, such as sleeping in public.
In a survey of 234 cities, the Washington, D.C.-based National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found that 40 percent prohibit sleeping in public. Loitering was illegal in 56 percent of the cities and 53 percent had made it unlawful to beg in public.
Modesto police Lt. Andy Schlenker wrote in a report to the council that the camps are health and safety nuisances: They are strewn with trash, attract rodents and create conditions for the spread of illness.
Parole violators and others with criminal records often occupy the camps, his report says, making them dangerous for other homeless people.
"The proposed ordinance will provide the Police Department with an effective tool with which to address the problems," Schlenker wrote.
Authorities started hearing more complaints from the public after campsites appeared behind retail stores on McHenry Avenue and near well-traveled intersections.
Police officials contended last month that there is enough room in shelters for people who occupy makeshift camps. But a person sympathetic to the homeless, in an e-mail responding to a May 8 Bee article, countered that there aren't nearly enough beds in the shelters run by the Modesto Gospel Mission and The Salvation Army.
"The homeless don't always have a choice as to where they sleep," the man wrote. "I don't believe handing out tickets to the homeless for sleeping where they can resolves anything."
The Salvation Army has 40 beds available May through October and 140 beds November through April. The Modesto Gospel Mission provides 100 beds year-round.
A January 2011 survey counted 1,409 homeless people in Stanislaus County. Numbers specific to Modesto were not available.
The Modesto ordinance would allow the city manager to give temporary camping permits for Scouting activities or special events such as marathons.
At Tuesday's meeting, the council also will consider:
Creating a Hospitality Zone Program that would assess conditions downtown. According to a staff report, such issues as parking, vagrancy and panhandling, policing and cleanliness need to be addressed "if the downtown is to continue to thrive."
Accepting a $250,000 state grant to combat gang violence
The City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, at 1010 10th St.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.