Topeka City Council pushes back decisions on homeless camping and panhandling bans


A decision on a controversial Topeka ordinance is being put on hold. The Topeka City Council discussed a new rule that would ban homeless people from camping on public property Tuesday night.

The ordinance was introduced in May of 2018 and the committee in charge of it said they need more time. The Public Health and Safety Committee has been researching the ordinance. 

Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz chairs the committee. She said they’re trying to decide whether the camping ban is the best way to solve Topeka’s homeless problem. 

“There are some steps that we have to take if we want to pass the ordinance that we have now,” she said. “But I’m not sure that we have to do that because we’ve had a lot of people come forward, partners that want to help the homeless.”

Ortiz said her committee is working to decide whether to move forward with the camping ban or not. The council will discuss the ordinance again in 90 days.

The council is also learning more about what it will take to fix the Kansas Avenue Bridge after a homeless camp fire damaged it in December. The fire damaged the north end of the bridge. City engineers say a steel beam was weakened. 

It will cost the city about $730,000 to fix. City Manager Brent Trout said police will be patrolling the area to be sure there aren’t any more fires under the bridge. Construction could take between four to five months.

Council members also decided to push back a discussion on preventing pandhandling. The proposed traffic and pedestrian safety ordinance would ban people from asking drivers for money or other items from the side of the road or the medians.

It would also prohibit drivers from stopping to give them anything. The council will bring it back up again in 90 days.

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