ITHACA, N.Y.—The final version of a policy aimed at restricting where encampments in Ithaca’s West End are allowed could be decided by Common Council at a special meeting on Wednesday.
The policy, which a working group began crafting over a year ago, has changed drastically in the last month after members of Common Council directed city staff to revise it following extensive public feedback. Among the changes is the removal of enforcement protocols for compelling people living outdoors to live in areas sanctioned for camping.
Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis told The Ithaca Voice, “Did I think that having a policy for council to vote on would take as much time as it did? I did not, necessarily. However, this is such a complex issue, and I’ve said repeatedly: If this was easy we would have — and other municipalities around the country would have — done it much sooner.”
The sanctioned encampment zone in the revised policy is located between a row of big-box stores on state Route 13, the Cayuga inlet, and over 58 acres in area. City officials estimated that just half of that area is suitable for camping with wetlands and other issues present throughout.
The policy now calls for the creation of a plan to install amenities, like toilets, drinking water, and garbage pickup in the sanctioned encampment zone. Introducing facilities that would improve the quality of life and hygiene within the encampments gained broad support from members of council in public discussions in recent months, but did not appear in a previous draft of the proposed encampment policy.
Camping is currently prohibited on city property under local law, but that has been largely unenforced in recent years when it has come to the encampments on Ithaca’s West End, known as the Jungle.
The city’s encampment policy originally was aimed at creating an area where homeless individuals would be allowed to camp on city owned property in what would be called a “green zones,” and expressly prohibiting camping in certain areas, which would be known as “red zones.”
But the plan to ban camping in certain areas where homeless individuals have long camped on the city’s property became a flashpoint in the development of the policy, along with its six-step enforcement policy to persuade campers to voluntarily relocate.
The protocol would have involved police issuing a citation to a camper upon a sixth notice to move their camp. Now, the protocol and the ban on camping in certain areas have been removed from the policy.
Under the revised policy, the city is reserving the right to remove a campsite on city property “in the event of an emergency condition or obstruction” in the draft policy, and law enforcement will continue to investigate any alleged crimes in the encampments.
A buffer zone has been established between the area where camping would be allowed and Nate’s Floral Estates, a mobile home community on Ithaca’s West End. Nate’s residents have produced some of the most vocal demands for the city to manage the encampments. The mobile home park, which has its entrance on Cecil Malone Drive, is wedged between the encampments and the commercial districts on Ithaca’s West End.
The policy has been expressly turned into a pilot project with a list of metrics that city officials will be following in order to evaluate its effectiveness. For one, city staff will monitor if the encampments consolidate in the sanctioned encampment area without an enforcement protocol, according to the revised encampment policy.
Officials will use the pilot period to determine whether the area they have chosen for the sanctioned encampment will be large enough to accommodate everyone unable to access shelter.
The pilot includes the goal of calculating an estimate of what it would cost to continue to operate the sanctioned encampment area with the facilities and services planned for it.
County and city officials have both come to recognize the need for collaboration in order to effectively manage the encampments, and service the people living in them. County officials recently formed a working group to begin shaping what that collaboration could look like.
Ithaca Voice reporter Megan Zerez contributed reporting to this article.
The City of Ithaca’s Common Council is meeting Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. for a special meeting. The agenda includes votes on the revised encampment policy and an amendment to the contributions that Cornell University makes to the City of Ithaca. The meeting will be livestreamed on the City of Ithaca’s YouTube page. The agenda can be found on the city’s website.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that camping is currently not prohibited on city property under the city law. Camping is prohibited on city property.