The heaviest topic of discussion of Tuesday’s Ann Arbor City Council meeting centered on the city’s homeless camps. The dialogue came in the wake of numerous demonstrations by public commenters supporting these camps.
In recent months, Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D-Ward 3) has been targeted by members and allies of Ann Arbor’s homeless community following statements last November that some considered offensive. These claims resulted in a petition to recall Kunselman, which was approved in the first week of January.
Subsequently, the council discussed and approved a revised version of preexisting legislation, Resolution DC-1, “to support best practices in response to homeless camps in the city of Ann Arbor.”
In response to complaints of homeless encampments on both private and public property, the resolution states that humane displacement of homeless camps on both private and public property is an appropriate response to private property owner and resident complaints.
However, the new version of the resolution seeks consultation from Washtenaw County’s Continuum of Care Board to ensure humane displacement to better accommodate individuals not currently served by the shelter system.
By contrast, the old version called exclusively for consultation with “key stakeholders” in the homeless community — a provision still included in the final legislation.
The resolution also states that “it is not the practice of the City of Ann Arbor to proactively seek out homeless camps for removal, nor to broadly deploy strategies to render areas used as campsites unusable.”
Approval for the resolution came after much discussion and debate on the issue from members of the council.
Councilmember Sabra Briere (D-Ward 1) called for further development of policy and reforms to address Ann Arbor’s homeless issue.
“This deals with the people who are camping outside,” she said. “It does not begin to address the crying need for additional alternatives — not just additional housing, but additional services.”
For this reason, Kunselman touted a more strong-armed effort with support from other councilmembers, arguing that ignoring homeless camps fosters crime and ignores the greater issue of a need for permanent affordable housing for homeless people in Ann Arbor.
“The way that this resolution is designed, we’re asking the police to turn a blind eye to illegal action … and I really have a problem with that,” Councilmember Jack Eaton (D-Ward 4) said. “I think that turning a blind eye to camp sites is allowing us to ignore our homeless problem.”
In response to the resolution’s non-proactive approach to abolishing homeless encampments, Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D-Ward 5) said camps should not be outlawed if members of the camps neither violate the law nor disturb other Ann Arbor residents.
“I do not believe that this is a case where we should be on a seek out and destroy mission,” Warpehoski said.
Overall, Kunselman said in an interview that he was pleased with the approval of Resolution DC-1.
“It illustrates the unity on council in dealing with a difficult topic and it was a discussion that had to happen and we did,” he said. “It (doesn’t) mean that we’ve solved anything, but that hard work is still ahead of us.”
Apart from this discussion, the Council also passed an ordinance Tuesday evening allowing chickens to roam the backyards of Ann Arbor locals, provided that their owners don’t slaughter their birds at home.
The adopted resolution pertaining to chickens — an amended version of chapter 107, section 9:42 of City Code — allows residents with a standard permit to keep four to six chickens, while residents with a provisional permit may keep no more than two.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Stephen Kunselman. The statement was made by Jack Eaton. .