Growing debate over controversial "no sit, no lie" proposal for downtown Indy

Mayor on No Sit No Lie
Debate over 'no sit, no lie' proposal

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - A proposed ordinance to address the growing number of homeless people and panhandlers downtown is generating a lot of debate, but some doubt it has the support to pass.

Republican Councilor Michael McQuillen introduced what's known as the "no sit, no lie" ordinance Friday. It would prohibit anyone from sitting or lying on a city street or sidewalk downtown from 6 a.m.. until midnight. Those who do ignore the ordinance could be taken to the nearest shelter by police, or face a ticket if they refused.

Sherry Seiwert, director of Downtown Indy, met with several business owners and representatives form agencies that provide services to the homeless.

She said business owners expressed frustration over what they and their customers see and deal with on a daily basis, not just people camped out around the Circle, but trash left behind and the concerns about safety. A recent survey by Downtown Indy found an increase in those who perceive downtown as "unsafe."

Still, Seiwert said there are no easy answers.

"This is a complex issue involving vulnerable people," she said. "Part of the conversation we had was when when you have vulnerable people they often get preyed upon so we're starting to see more low-grade criminal activity."

Caleb Sutton, interim director of the Coalition for Homeless Intervention and Prevention, or CHIP, was not at the meeting but said CHIP strongly opposes the ordinance.

"The no sit, no lie ordinance would criminalize homelessness," Sutton said. "It does not offer solutions such as housing and services...We know we do not have the resources to house those individuals who would be picked up and brought to the nearest as a community we need to be focused on solutions...building permanent housing."

When asked what his position on the ordinance was, Mayor Joe Hogsett said, "I'm still studying it. It's in Corporation Counsel and being reviewed."

He said there had to be "a balance," between "providing public safety and making everyone feel welcome."

Democratic Councilor Monroe Gray said he doubts the ordinance has the votes to pass.

"It is not a solution," Gray said. "You just move the problem somewhere else. We need to decide where we want these people to go."

Republican Councilor Colleen Fanning said, "It's really not about vagrancy, panhandling and homelessness at all. It's about solving the issue...we really have to have buy in as to a long-term solution and hold the city accountable so we're forced to allocated resources for our homeless neighbors.

Seiwert agreed there needs to be much more discussion.

"It's great to start the conversation," she said. "We need a more comprehensive solution, but on the enforcement side, I think the business community would be delighted that something was put in place."

McQuillen said what he offered "is probably not the final proposal. I welcome change and additions so it works for everyone."

He said he just hoped the proposal was sent to and heard in committee so that anyone wanting to weigh in on the issue could.