Collegedale police enforce ordinance that prohibits sleeping in city parks

A homeless woman sleeping at Imagination Station was asked to leave.
Tuesday, November 8, 2022 (Photo by: Charlene Arnold)
A homeless woman sleeping at Imagination Station was asked to leave. Tuesday, November 8, 2022 (Photo by: Charlene Arnold)

A homeless woman sleeping at Imagination Station was recently informed by police that she could no longer stay at the city park, Assistant Collegedale Police Chief Jamie Heath confirmed in an email to the Accent.

The newspaper first heard about the incident from a Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventist member who was trying to help the woman–who did not want to be identified–find housing. 

Heath said the woman had been sleeping on a park bench for a couple of nights before the CPD approached her to see if she needed help. 

“At that time, the CPD enforced the city’s Ordinance 1100 and directed the woman to the CPD’s Chaplin program — a continued resource for over a decade,” Heath stated in the email to the Accent. “Both CPD and the chaplain department worked together and covered the cost of a hotel room for the woman in need.”

The City of Collegedale does not have policies specific to homeless persons, Heath explained. However, the Camping Ordinance 1100 was passed by the city commission in response to a major clean-up operation earlier this year, as well as community members voicing concerns to city officials.

In the email to the Accent, Heath said the clean-up operation was conducted at a homeless camping area under the bridge on Little Debbie Parkway after some heavy storms and flooding. He said nearly all the homeless individuals that had been camping under the bridge assisted in the clean-up.

According to Heath, Ordinance 1100 prohibits camping on city property not designated for the use of camping, to include the public right of ways, sidewalks, walking trails or public parks without a permit.

“Unfortunately, there continue to be many people in our area who face homelessness, and there is no one solution for any one individual.”

 Camping is defined as “the erection or use of temporary structures such as tents, tarps, and other temporary shelters for living accommodation activities such as sleeping or preparing to sleep.‘Camping’ includes, but is not limited to: the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping, storing personal belongings, making any fire, doing any digging or earth breaking or carrying on cooking activities, whether by fire or use of artificial means such as a propane stove or other heat-producing portable cooking equipment.”

There have been no major arrests or disturbances from the homeless population in Collegedale, Heath stated in the email,  and the CPD works closely with local civic and religious groups to assist the population. Yet, the problem persists.

“In the 20 years that I’ve worked here, the characteristics of the homeless population that I’ve encountered inside the city limits of Collegedale have stayed pretty much the same,” he wrote.  “We have a few ‘regulars’ that we have worked with over the years, but the majority are just traveling through. Even our ‘regulars’ don’t stick around all the time. They all follow the warmer weather, or where they can find food, work, or assistance.”

Erin Barthle, communication director and assistant to the executive director at the Samaritan Center, described homelessness as a complex issue that can be difficult to address. 

“Unfortunately, there continue to be many people in our area who face homelessness, and there is no one solution for any one individual,” she wrote in an email to the Accent.  “It is often a multifactor problem, and each person’s situation differs.” 

Sharon Smith-Hensley, social services director at the Samaritan Center, said  the agency does not provide hotel stays. However, homeless people who go there for assistance can receive  pop-top food items, a comfort kit,  a backpack and a first aid kit  made specifically to address their needs. Smith-Hensley said the center also works closely with Joe Brackett, of the Chattanooga-based Homeless Health Care Center, who comes out to the Collegedale area every two weeks to work with the homeless population.  

“We also make sure [homeless individuals] are aware of the Community Kitchen, [which has] trained personnel to work with the unhoused population,” she said.  

In addition to protecting the community, Heath said the CPD exists to help those in need. The department also remains responsible for the enforcement of all state laws and local ordinances

 “Being homeless is not a crime,” he said. “It’s likely a result of a series of unfortunate events where the individual may find themself in need,” 

Anyone aware of a homeless person in need of assistance within the Collegedale city limits, can call the non-emergency number, 423-396-3133, for help, according to Heath. He stated in the email that dispatchers are available 24/7 to answer calls and send officers where they are needed. However, if a person’s life is in danger and an emergency response is required, it is always best to dial 9-1-1.

Those who want to make donations to assist the homeless population,  can do so through local churches or civic organizations. According to Heath, individuals can also donate items at the Collegedale City Hall.

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