CAMP­ING

The Catoosa County News - - EDITORIALS & OPINION -

“We don’t have a fa­cil­ity or a place for them to go stay,” Dunn said. “I would love to see us de­velop that. I think it’s a burn­ing need in our com­mu­nity. I am very in­ter­ested in as­sist­ing that kind of en­deavor, but there is no place like that now.”

The hand­ful men liv­ing un­der the bridge right now are ei­ther there be­cause they lack the fi­nances to live any­where else, and in some cases are reg­is­tered sex of­fend­ers with lim­i­ta­tions on where they can take up res­i­dence.

“They lose the things they have. They lose their jobs. They lose their homes. They lose their fam­i­lies some­times. And they get out of their in­car­cer­a­tion and there’s no place to go,” Dunn said. “Sex of­fend­ers can­not live within so many feet of a school, church, com­mu­nity cen­ter, a pub­lic li­brary … places where chil­dren con­gre­gate. There are coun­ties in the state of Ge­or­gia where there is lit­er­ally no place in the county where they can legally re­side be­cause of these dis­tance re­stric­tions.”

Dunn even pointed out the Drug Court sys­tem that was put into place in the Look­out Moun­tain Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit ( serves Ca­toosa, Walker, Dade and Chat­tooga coun­ties) last year, which works to re­ha­bil­i­tate non- vi­o­lent of­fend­ers in­stead of send­ing them to prison.

He ex­plained that some folks can’t take part if they’re con­sid­ered home­less.

“There have been a num­ber of peo­ple who in all other re­spects qual­i­fied for the pro­gram, but we had to turn them away be­cause one of the re­quire­ments is you have to have a stable place to live,” Dunn ex­plained. “We’ve had folks we’ve turned down for Drug Court sim­ply be­cause they could not pro­duce a place that met the cri­te­ria of the court pro­gram, so they couldn’t get the ha­bil­i­ta­tion and treat­ment that the Drug Court pro­vides.”

Af­ter Dunn voiced his opin­ion as both a Ring­gold res­i­dent and one whose pro­fes­sion is based on de­fend­ing those in need, Coun­cil­man Black reaf­firmed why the is­sue was brought up to be­gin with – be­cause res­i­dents are con­cerned.

Black also spoke about a new is­sue that was re­al­ized over the past cou­ple of weeks, the fact that the campers are uti­liz­ing equip­ment that could be dan­ger­ous given that there’s a ma­jor gas line run­ning un­der­neath the bridge.

“I put this is­sue on the agenda af­ter city res­i­dents con­tacted me as one of their elected coun­cil mem­bers ex­press­ing con­cern about the in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing un­der the bridge,” Black said. “We now have a safety is­sue that has come up where there is a Ge­or­gia Nat­u­ral Gas line un­der that bridge. With their grills and their cook­ing ap­pli­ances and things like that, it’s some­thing else that we as a body have to take into con­sid­er­a­tion about that safety as­pect of it.”

Mayor Nick Mill­wood said he and Coun­cil­man Kelly Bo­mar looked at those con­cerns first­hand.

“When Kelly and I went out there, there was a kerosene heater and a propane tank, and it’s like ‘oh my good­ness, they have it go­ing on down here right now,’” Mill­wood said.

“Maybe part of the so­lu­tion is to ban those things and not nec­es­sar­ily the peo­ple be­ing there,” Dunn replied. “If you ban them, they’re ei­ther go­ing to be in vi­o­la­tion of the ban, or they’re go­ing to be just some­body else’s prob­lem. I don’t think we want to be push­ing them off on some­body else with­out try­ing to solve the prob­lem.”

Black said the pur­pose of bring­ing up a po­ten­tial or­di­nance was to look at pro­hibit­ing the camp­ing, erect­ing of tents/tem­po­rary struc­tures, and to keep peo­ple from sleep­ing in a cer­tain place for a sub­stan­tial, pro­longed pe­riod of time.

Black ex­plained that an or­di­nance would in­clude ex­cep­tions for in­stances such as Boy Scouts camp­ing in the city with adult su­per­vi­sion. He called those sit­u­a­tions “com­mon sense type ex­cep­tions”.

As far as the his­tory of the men cur­rently re­sid­ing un­der the bridge goes, Black said he got con­fir­ma­tion from the sher­iff that some are in­deed reg­is­tered sex of­fend­ers.

“I was con­tacted by the Ca­toosa County Sher­iff’s Of­fice and told that their state-man­dated sex of­fender registry re­quired to be main­tained by the sher­iff, in­di­cates that at least five con­victed sex of­fend­ers are list­ing the In­gle’s bridge as where they sleep at night,” Black said. “We’ve been dis­cussing this is­sue to help the home­less. It’s a valid con­cern that must be ad­dressed at some point by this mayor and coun­cil.”

The coun­cil wound up not tak­ing any ac­tion on a po­ten­tial or­di­nance.

Coun­cil­woman Sara Clark in­sisted that peo­ple at­tend the pub­lic fo­rum slated to take place Nov. 15 at First Bap­tist Church of Ring­gold on Nashville Street.

“I hope those cit­i­zens who did have this con­cern come to that fo­rum,” Clark said. “They need to be there and they need to ex­press their con­cerns.”

From A1

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