ALTON - A ban on camping in public places in Alton has been put on hold after aldermen voted to lay the item over at the Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday. After much discussion about the proposed ordinance’s impact on Alton’s unhoused population, the committee is expected to consider the item again at their next meeting on Oct. 9.

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Alton Police Chief Jarrett Ford said nobody will be arrested for camping in public, but they will be given a warning, alternative options, or - in the case of repeated noncompliance - a summons to appear in court.

“What we would do at that point, it’s not an arrest situation,” Ford said, adding they would instead receive a summons. “In that court system, it’s not designed to punish. It’s designed also to be a level where there’s options available to assist and any resources at that point in time that can be given certainly would. I’m confident in our courts as well as our Police Department - this isn’t something that’s enforcement-heavy, it’s actually a compassionate approach.”

According to the wording of the resolution, the city has determined that camping near public trails, public parks, public streets, and other public property in Alton “has a tendency to” interfere with the public’s ability to use them and the city’s ability to maintain them. It also states that conditions can become unsanitary if these public areas are not equipped with the proper facilities.

Prior to issuing a citation, Alton police officers “shall provide a verbal or written warning” to cease unlawful camping and referrals to alternative options, including but not limited to “transportation, shelter, and/or contact information to public or private agencies who may be able to provide services or support,” according to the ordinance.

If a citation is issued, Chief Ford said that individual would be issued a summons, and it would be the court’s decision how to proceed. While Chief Ford repeatedly said the court would have several resources to offer those cited under this ordinance, the actual language of the ordinance does not contain any mention of resources provided or recommended by the court.

According to the “Penalties” section of the ordinance, a violation is punishable by a fine of $75-$750. Each subsequent violation within 30 days is punishable by a fine of $500-$750. Each day a violation occurs continuously “shall constitute a separate offense and may be punished separately.”

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According to the ordinance, 100% of these fines will be donated to “an Alton based organization that assists with the needs of homeless subjects in the City of Alton as determined by the Chief of Police.” The court may also use community service as a form of deterrence if deemed suitable.

Alderman Nate Keener attempted to amend the ordinance by adding the line: “If the officer determines there is no Available Overnight Shelter, the officer shall not issue a citation.” He said he didn’t want to see the city’s unhoused population get tickets for not using services that are unavailable.

“We’ve got a policy that says we’re going to give a homeless person a ticket for camping on public property, even if there are no homeless shelter beds available or services for them to avail themselves,” Keener said.

Alderman Raymond Strebel said Keener was interpreting the ordinance differently than him, and suggested Keener had a “suspicion of the police department.”

“I feel like you have a suspicion of the police department, and I don’t have that suspicion,” Strebel said. “I don’t think they’re coming in to cite, to take property, I just don’t agree with that.”

As written, the ordinance would also prohibit storing personal property on public property. It allows police officers to confiscate personal property without warning, whether or not an individual is cited with violating the ordinance, if an area is determined an “unauthorized encampment” and if that personal property is stored on public property, “creates a legitimate health and safety concern,” or “creates an immediate and substantial danger to the environment.” Confiscated materials deemed unsanitary or a danger to public health may be immediately disposed of, while other confiscated items may not be disposed of without the property owner’s consent.

Ultimately, aldermen voted to lay over the item to their next meeting to give them more time to gather the various stakeholders involved for further input. Alderwoman Stephanie Elliott was absent from the meeting.

A full recording of the Sept. 25 Committee of the Whole meeting is available at the top of this story, on the Facebook page, or on

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