After a request from several downtown merchants, Ocotillo District Councilmember Jamie Aldama and city officials held a meeting to discuss issues on the increase in homeless population within the downtown area.

“The meeting was in response to several business owners regarding concerns of the homelessness in downtown and Caitlin Court area,” Aldama said. “I called for the meeting with business owners and City Manager Kevin Phelps and we sat and listened to them July 11.”

Approximately 10 merchants, along with Aldama, Phelps, Police Chief Rick St. John and Glendale Chamber of Commerce President Robert Heidt, were on hand to discuss the issue.

“(Aldama) called the meeting and merchants put everything into context and what can be done on a short-term and long-term basis,” Heidt said. “The police gave the merchants information on what they can do legally and around 37 issues were mentioned during the meeting.”

Merchants were concerned with the increase of the homeless and asked what the city could do to reduce the numbers and keep the downtown area clear.

“Merchants feel it is a result of some of the individuals who are now urban camping in the area,” Aldama said. “Merchants mentioned property damage, theft and a nuisance that is leading to a decline in business and the safety of those who shop and dine in the downtown and Caitlin Court area.”

The city currently has an urban campaign ordinance that prevents individuals from camping in an urban setting such as the downtown area, but laying out a blanket in the area is fine as long as they are not there overnight.

St. John told merchants and city officials that legally, homeless people were not breaking any laws since it is a park area, but the department will increase enforcement of the urban campaign ordinance.

“St John said the police will increase patrols in the downtown and Catlin Court area,” Aldama said. “He also asked that merchants should continue to call the police when they feel unsafe or when they observe urban camping. St. John ensured merchants his patrols would be frequent.”

Merchants mentioned to Heidt and the chamber that the homeless numbers began increasing around November of last year, and have gradually increased to where it has become an issue with safety over recent weeks.

“The city is planning to continue to increase patrols and Phelps ensured members of the community development department were working on a plan of action regarding homelessness,” Aldama said.

Aldama said he is focused on improving the safety of merchants and shoppers who come to downtown and will continue to work on fixing the issues mentioned by business owners in the area.

“I have met several times with merchants on the homeless concerns and I have advised them that I have intent to ask, as a councilmember, for an item of interest during the next scheduled workshop in August for city staff to research and bring forth for council’s consideration, strengthening the city’s urban camping ordinance,” Aldama said. “Also, in a previous city meeting, I have asked city staff to research and return to council dedicated funding to prevent and manage the homeless in the city.”

Council has scheduled the item for the Aug. 15 workshop.