CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Charlotte City Council approved the changes that will criminalize behaviors often associated with homelessness following strong opposition form the public Monday night.
Even the council members who voted for the amendments to the city ordinance admitted this was not the final step in the process, and there was much work left to be done. It passed 5-3, with councilmembers LaWana Mayfield, Tiawana Brown and Renee Johnson opposed.
“We have work to,” said Councilwoman Marjorie Molina. “This is absolutely imperfect on so many levels.”
The offense that could now be punished as a misdemeanor include open containers of alcohol, loitering for the purpose of drug-related activity, masturbation in public, and urination and defecation on certain property.
It comes following a “quality of life” initiative that was launched last year. The Housing, Safety and Community Committee crafted the new laws.
The message from many of the public speakers was that the action would make being homeless more difficult by placing criminal charges on their record. Some noted that the actions weren’t exclusive to that population, and they happened from fans leaving sporting events or those attending festivals.
Councilmember Victoria Watlington, who headed the HSC committee, was not present.
Staff revealed that currently, action is being taken, including adding portable restrooms on the north side of uptown and repairing a truck that would provide showers and laundry services.
Councilmember Ed Driggs emphasized that city leaders have been and will continue to seek solutions.
“Everybody thinks we’re choosing enforcement versus engagement,” Driggs said. “That we have no care and we don’t engage. The engagement from city has been huge; we are racking our brains how to solve this, and how to protect people who don’t want to be confronted by certain things.”
In September 2021, the state removed the criminalization of much of the behaviors.
The re-criminalization would take effect immediately. They will be subject to a $500 fine.
Councilmember Renee Johnson attempted to make an amendment to remove the more homeless-specific items, but the change was shot down.