Wooster weighs ordinance that would fine homeless who refuse to go to shelters

WOOSTER, Ohio - A new Wooster ordinance could result in up to a $150 dollars fine or potential arrest for the homeless who refuse to go to a shelter when asked by police.

"We're not trying to get money out of homeless people, we could care less if they paid a single fine. We're trying to help get people off the street," said Wooster Law Director John Scavelli.

The ordinance would prohibit an officer from making an arrest or citation if there is no available space at a city shelter. The law would provide transportation for the person who accepts the offer of shelter. Scavelli said only when the offer is refused would the person be subject to penalties within the law if passed.

"Our ordinance is meant to try to help people that are homeless not to penalize them," said Scavelli.

The proposal was met with both controversy and support, including by one man who said he used to be homeless.

"Sometimes it's unfortunate but you have to force some people to actually get help," said the man who did not want to be identified.

He continued, "I've been there myself. What they are trying to do is get the people off the street. I don't see why a person wouldn't want to go into a shelter."

Reverend Kevan Franklin of Trinity United Church of Christ argues the issue is more complicated.

"Last year we served about 17,000 meals and on average we have about 75 people here each weekday," the Reverend told FOX 8. "I don't think it will do good; part of the problem is the idea that homeless is caused by affordable housing."

Reverend Franklin said after 23 years of serving breakfast for those in need at church, there has not been a notable decline in how many people need a helping hand.

The Salvation Army of Wooster is currently at peak capacity according to Major Madelaine Dwier.  She said the shelter is the only one in the county that accepts men in addition to families. The 37 beds available are often filled up to 80% of the year.

Scavelli again stressed that an individual cannot comply with the law if there is nowhere to go. He added the goal of the ordinance is not to punish those with the most critical of needs.

The ordinance will have a second reading before Wooster City Council next week.

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