Rochester City Council split on how to clean up homeless encampments

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(ABC 6 News) – The Rochester City Council is debating how best to clean up homeless encampments.

The Rochester Police Department said in 2021 there were nearly 2,000 incidences involving people experiencing homelessness in Rochester. That number jumped to nearly 3,000 in 2022, and is projected to jump to over 4,000 this year.

Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin asked the council Monday for an ordinance banning camping on all city grounds. The city has been operating under a 2014 resolution banning people from camping overnight in city parks. According to Franklin, the resolution isn’t encouraging people experiencing homelessness to actually find housing.

“The establishment of boundaries, the setting up of rules and expectations can help influence behavior,” Franklin said in the meeting.

Franklin says in the experience of his department, trespassing people isn’t working.

“How do we compassionately and empathetically drive people to resources? And I think we’ve got the brainpower and the partnerships and the people in the community that want to do good – that we can wrap our arms around this problem,” he continued.

According to multiple agencies that support people experiencing homelessness, the area is actually running out of resources.

“If an encampment gets broken up and they have no place to go, admittedly, we cannot provide services for housing, we do not have them, would it perhaps not be a more dignified option to offer a set location for an encampment?” questioned Councilmember Kelly Kirkpatrick.

City and county officials acknowledge resources are “highly used.” The Rochester Warming Center says it’s turning two to three people away every night because it’s at capacity. People at the Landing Day Center say they’ve seen a 55 percent increase in the number of people they’ve seen since December 2022.

“My question is again: where are they supposed to go? What are they supposed to do?” said Dan Fifield, co-owner of the Landing MN.

Fifield was at the meeting, and believes making harsher punishments for camping will prevent people experiencing homelessness from getting housing in the future.

“To tell someone in the camp that they have to seek services when there are no services available, is upsetting to me. Because we know most of these individuals. They have contacted services. There are no housing services available for the most part,” Fifield explained.

Council President Brooke Carlson says the council will need more information about what housing resources are and are not available to people in the county before making any decisions about an ordinance at a later meeting.