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Ithaca Common Council to revise, narrow homeless encampments plan

Members of Ithaca common council want to revise a draft policy that would address homeless encampments in the city.
Vaughn Golden
Members of the Ithaca Common Council want to revise a draft policy that would address homeless encampments in the city.

The city of Ithaca is working to revise a plan to allow homeless encampments, with the goal of bringing it to the common council for a full vote as early as October.

A draft policy to alter the city’s laws on camping was the main topic of discussion before the council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee last week. Currently, camping of any kind isn’t legally allowed on city property. But that isn’t stopping people from setting up encampments, primarily on city-owned properties on the west end, commonly referred to as the "Jungle".

The draft policy was prepared by a working group of city council members, staff, outreach workers and other stakeholders. It proposed creating several zones where camping would be permitted, discouraged and not allowed.

Members of the committee, like Alderperson Jorge Defindini, joined many other commenters in arguing that the different zone designations are confusing and advocate creating a single “green zone” area where the city allows encampments.

"We should focus on building up and supporting a green zone and convincing our outreach workers, you need to direct folks here, while they're also trying to get folks into housing,” Definidini said.

Dozens of people and organizations submitted comments on the proposal.

The Planning and Economic Development Committee decided to utilize the public input to revise the existing draft policy to only include a green zone. The goal is to bring it forward again next month, and ultimately the common council, by October.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.