In response to complaints from citizens, including student athletes, as well as visitors who use the Swan Creek Greenway, the Athens City Council approved an ordinance regarding use of city property for campsites and temporary shelters.
The ordinance, which the Council approved on Aug. 24, directs Mayor Ronnie Marks to work with the city attorney, Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson and other department heads to issue an executive order regarding trespassing on city property.
On Thursday, Marks issued the executive order that will go into effect 12 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 20. The order states that city properties in the wooded area along Swan Creek and the construction storage area for the former landfill are not for use for camping, sleeping or bathing.
“This presents real health and safety concerns to those persons because of the items stored in these areas,” the executive order states. “Some of those heavy concrete items, for example, have been used as unstable temporary shelters, and fires have been built in those areas.”
The order further states city law enforcement continues to receive reports concerning the safety of passersby who use the greenway for hiking, running and biking.
Public Works will install “No Trespassing” signs in these areas, and city officials will visit those camping in the areas to notify them of the executive order. Marks said city officials will work with nonprofit groups to help individuals seek shelter and other assistance.
Marks said he has sought input from ministers and philanthropic groups who help those who are homeless. Some suggest a homeless shelter, while others do not.
“The responsibility for this issue cannot be the full responsibility for the City of Athens,” he said. “We have to have people at the table from areas such as mental health, substance abuse and family assistance. Then we have to answer tough questions. If Athens has a homeless shelter, where is it located? How many beds does it offer? Who decides who gets a bed? What happens to those who do not have a bed? How is it funded? Who operates it? What all services does it provide? These issues are what our city’s spiritual leaders and community servants are going to have to work together with the City to address.”
Marks said the City will continue to work with community leaders on a course of action.