Tent City's fate may be decided in July

Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

The fate of a 100-acre stretch of homeless campsites in the woods near central Gainesville could be decided at a July City Commission meeting.

In the meantime, the city will not take action against those living on public land in "Tent City," located south of Depot Avenue and east of S. Main Street, according to a memo City Manager Russ Blackburn sent to city commissioners Wednesday. Between 80 and 150 people are believed to live in the campsites known as Tent City, a mix of public and privately owned properties.

Tent City became a flashpoint between homeless advocates and the city in recent weeks after city officials began investigating the campsites with plans to eventually move residents off the properties. Homeless advocates had threatened to block any attempt to evict those living in Tent City with protests and civil disobedience unless alternative housing is made available.

Commissioner Jack Donovan, who has been an outspoken advocate for the homeless, informed homeless advocates of the memo Thursday in an e-mail and said he agreed with the idea of holding a discussion in July.

However, Donovan also called on the city "to make sure in the meantime that public safety and health are not at immediate risk" at the camp, possibly by adding a trash bin or chemical toilet near the site.

The issue has been seen as a victory by some homeless advocates.

"This is great news," wrote Joe Jackson, a University of Florida Levin School of Law lecturer who has provided legal representation for the homeless, in response to the news that the evictions would not go forward.

Blackburn said Wednesday that holding a meeting to discuss the issue in July will give city staff time to examine the issue and develop options for the City Commission.

"I don't think we're ready to have that discussion yet," Blackburn said. "We don't have all the ideas and assessments."

While Blackburn said actions would not be taken against those living on properties owned by the city, he did not rule out the possibility that landowners could request assistance from Gainesville Police.

Last month, the city sent letters to property owners with land in Tent City notifying them they were in violation of city codes because people were camping on their land. The letters included a form that could be filled out to allow GPD to enforce trespassing laws against those living on the properties.

As of last week, none of the property owners had returned a form to the city asking that their properties be cleared, and Blackburn said Thursday he did not know of any requests that had come in since that time.

"The private property owners have rights under state law," Blackburn said.

Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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