An ordinance regulating overnight camping and temporary shelters in city parks was approved Monday by the Waxahachie City Council.
The council first considered the ordinance at the Jan. 16 meeting and tabled the item due to an unforeseen-negative impact on the homeless population.
The ordinance would require a person to obtain a camping permit from Parks and Recreation Director John Smith. It would allow a person to camp no more than two weeks during any 30-consecutive-day period without written permission from the parks and recreation department. If violated, a person can be fined up to $500.
Mayor Pro Tem Mark Singleton previously stated that the ordinance’s goal was not to harm the homeless but to protect city property in parks that were being destroyed and vandalized.
The council asked Ellis County Homeless Coalition chairperson Melissa Rawlins to provide a report before making a final decision. The coalition conducted a point-in-time count (PIT) on Jan. 25, which counted the county’s homeless population. This data was forward to the Texas Housing Network, who provides it to the state to give insight into a community’s homeless population.
“The sad news is that we have juveniles that are homeless, who are either couch surfing by their own choice or kicked out by families. We have elderly people that are on the verge of homelessness because their income is not keeping up with the cost of living,” Rawlins said. “We have working families and working individuals that are homeless living in hotels or they need to go stay at Daniel’s Den or on the verge of homelessness because they can’t keep up with the cost of living. We have homeless veterans in the community.”
Rawlins encouraged city leaders to develop a plan that would create an emergency shelter in times of inclement weather. She noted that Daniel’s Den in Waxahachie does provide emergency assistance and transitional housing programs to the homeless population. She stated another resource in the county is Haven of Hope in Ennis who aids people who have become homeless due to domestic violence situations.
Rawlins shared that she understands the purpose of the ordinance was not targeted the city’s homeless population. She suggested that the community come together to solve the problem by putting groups together like local churches and non-profits to find a solution.
Rawlins also asked for the city’s partnership to work on the problem by either having coalition members join existing city boards or have the city appoint a staff member to work with the coalition for a three-year appointment.
Rawlins told council members she is working on another option that would provide traditional housing, work, and counseling for the homeless individuals who want a hand up. The site is under consideration is an 18-acre area near the 800 block of Cantrell Street in Waxahachie. She hopes to build one-story cottage-like structures.
Mayor Kevin Strength told Rawlins that Cantrell Street is one of the portals into the city and the staff has worked to change the look of for some time to fit the city’s current vision on the highway. He explained that Rawlins' proposed development would be better suited on land in the county, not inside city limits.
Rawlins assured Strength that the potential units would not take away from the city but add to it while assisting others.
“What we are suggesting is a very minimal development with one story cottages that would not take away from the beautiful flow of the land that has already been created. I would hope that in the future when we get our plans together with input from people in the city you would be exposed to a beautiful presentation and an idea that will be attractive on this corridor that will contribute tax dollars,” Rawlins explained. “Research has shown that the recidivism rate will go down when people have access to housing, work, and counseling. We tend to offer that in a one-stop environment for people at a point were our impact could make the biggest impact.”
The council passed the item. Councilmember Mary Lou Shipley and Mark Singleton were absent from Monday’s meeting.
In other business the council:
• Approved a preliminary plat of Silo House Ranch for four lots located in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.
• Approved a zoning change from a commercial zoning district to a freestanding planned development with a concept plan for a mixed-use development located east of the existing Camden Park Subdivision.
• Approved a replat to create four lots in the Dawn Estates located in the city’s ETJ.
• Approved a request from Bannister Engineering for a replat of one lot create three lots in the city’s ETJ.
• Approved a request from Ronald Forman for an amendment for the Settler’s Glen Planned Development District to increase the maximum lot coverage in the single-family-three base districts from 35 percent to 50 percent by main building structures.
• Approved requests from Terry Weaver for an amendment for the North Grove and Sheppard’s Place Planned Development District to increase the maximum lot coverage in the single-family three base districts from 35 percent to 50 percent by main building structures.