Leon Valley Enacts Controversial Ordinance Targeting Homelessness Activities

Leon Valley Enacts Controversial Ordinance Targeting Homelessness ActivitiesSource: Leon Valley Texas
Javi Gonzalez
Published on February 12, 2024

In a measure that has stirred up controversy within the community, Leon Valley has clamped down on homelessness with a new ordinance that prohibits many activities associated with homelessness. Leon Valley officials responded to complaints about homeless encampments from residents and business owners with an amendment to the city's code under Chapter 8 Offenses and Nuisances, discussed first on May 16 before the city council, KENS 5 reported.

According to the new rules, activities such as camping, lodging, or sleeping in public parks, recreational areas, and other designated public spaces are now illegal within the city limits. The ordinance also extends to prohibit individuals from standing in traffic medians unless crossing the street, leaving personal belongings unattended in public spaces, and obstructing public passageways. These regulations come in the wake of a significant increase in homelessness-related calls to the police in recent years, rising from 48 in 2021 to 101 in 2022, as reported by KSAT.

Leon Valley Police Chief David Gonzalez, while enforcing the ordinance, has emphasized the human side of the issue. "It’s not against the law to be homeless," said Gonzalez, despite the city's move to ban the characteristics associated with homelessness within its jurisdiction. In the first half of 2023, the ordinance led to multiple verbal warnings and only one citation, as the department prioritizes notifying and offering help over more aggressive enforcement measures, Gonzalez told KSAT.

Support for the ordinance is mixed, with Public Works Director Melinda Moritz indicating the city's lack of resources to handle the issue alone, while Council Member Josh Stevens expressed concerns about the ordinance's potential for abuse and infringement on rights, especially when it comes to its interpretation and enforcement on private property, as reported by KENS5. Landowner Brian Netfield also raised constitutional concerns at a city council meeting, questioning the implications on the Fourth Amendment.

The silver lining seems to be a focus on outreach and long-term solutions. The City of Leon Valley has partnered with Bexar County and Haven for Hope, embarking on a pilot program aiming to establish connections with the homeless population and to help transition them into housing. Katie Wilson, the executive director for Close to Home SA, asserts that such outreach is vital for addressing the root of homelessness rather than merely dispersing encampments. "Cleaning up the encampments may temporarily move people to a different area, but it’s not going to move them into housing," Wilson noted.