SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) - A proposed ban against sitting and lying on the sidewalk in Saratoga Springs has passed.
Discussions ran late into the night on the ban that would impose a fine on people sitting or lying on the sidewalk. Ultimately, it passed by a vote of 4-1. Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen was the only person to vote no. She said the punishment was too harsh.
Dozens came out to a public meeting on Tuesday centered on one question: Is banning people from sitting on the city's sidewalks addressing a public safety hazard or is it criminalizing the homeless?
"They're labeling you cause you look like that or you look like XYZ," Darlene McGraw said.
McGraw knows what it's like to not have any place to go. She spent a month on the streets before getting help. She said the ban isn't the way to resolve the issue of homelessness.
"We need to think of it as a whole, huge concern all over the place," she said.
But Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said the ordinance has nothing to do with the homeless.
"We're trying to make sure that people aren't tripping over people," he said. "It's a public safety hazard."
But one after the other, people took to the microphone to say the proposed ban wasn't only about public safety.
"I think it's about homeless," Joy King said. "I think it's about anything, anybody who doesn't fit into our caste system here."
King has lived in Saratoga Springs her entire life, but she has never had her path blocked.
"Never," she said. "That's why I don't understand it."
She said they're not just obstructions but human beings who may need help. People like McGraw, who said no one is immune to homelessness.
"It could happen to them today, tomorrow, the next day," she said.
Matheisen maintains the ban is not targeting anyone. There will be exceptions such as sitting on a bench, watching a parade, or having a medical emergency.
The ban goes into effect some time next week. A warning will be issued first. If disobeyed, the first offense could carry a fine of up to $100. The second offense could carry a fine of up to $500 or up to 10 days in jail.
After that, someone in violation could be charged with a misdemeanor.