Ashland talks about camping ban

Ashland's controverisal camping law comes back to the City Council for a decision tonight.

The council meets at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the Ashland Civic Center, 1175 E. Main St. The meeting is open to the public.

At issue is whether Ashland's camping ban, first approved in 1995, leaves the city vulnerable to lawsuits over whether it violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says it may, even if the council approves staff recommendations to make illegal camping a violation rather than a crime.

The ban prohibits camping on sidewalks, streets, alleys, parks and under bridges on any city-owned property. It requires the city to post notice 24 hours before eviction and to notify a social services agency of the notice.

City Councilman Eric Navickas first raised the issue, saying arresting and imposing fines or community service on homeless campers, while at the same time failing to provide them shelter, is criminalizing homelessness.

Other proposed changes to Ashland's ordinance would require evictions to be bilingual, ban multiple citations in the same area, give campers 60 days (instead of 14) to reclaim seized property, allow private property owners to provide camping and allow the city to sentence campers on city park land to 48 hours of community service, which can include cleaning up campsites.

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