County Mayor Stephen Chambers told The Vidette that officials are looking into ways to remove a homeless woman from the gazebo located at the corner of Broadway and Main Street in downtown Hartsville.
A number of readers have contacted The Vidette asking what, if anything, could be done.
Chambers noted that while he sympathizes with those upset over the situation, the county has to be careful in how the matter is addressed.
“In 1972, the Supreme Court made unconstitutional all vagrancy laws, so you can’t criminalize homelessness,” said Chambers, who worked as an attorney before being elected mayor. “There are other court cases recognizing they have constitutional right, just like all of us.”
As the gazebo is owned by Trousdale County government, it is considered public property and therefore open to use by anyone. Therefore trespass laws would not apply.
Chambers also noted a more recent court case in which the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that unless a shelter is available, homeless people cannot be forced off the street. The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that ruling.
Trousdale County’s Community Center is designed to double as an emergency shelter, but previous attempts to get the county’s homeless population to stay there during inclement weather have met with no success.
“We’re making sure that what we do to remove her recognizes her constitutional rights and that we do it the proper way,” the mayor added.
Chambers said the county planned to file a civil action in court to remove the woman from the property. The court date is scheduled for Aug. 20.
“That’s going to take time because you’ve got to go through the process,” he said.
Chambers acknowledged reports of alleged criminal activity by the woman such as drug sales and public urination, but said without a witness willing to swear out a warrant law enforcement could take no action.
“We can’t force her to go; she has to go voluntarily,” Chambers said. “That’s where we are now.”
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-450-5756 or firstname.lastname@example.org.