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Trepassing laws to be enforced on county medians

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Posted at 11:35 PM, Apr 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-26 02:38:55-04

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - At a public meeting Monday night, Pima County Sheriff announced that beginning on Tuesday deputies will begin to enforce trespassing laws on county medians to curb panhandling.

The sheriff made this announcement in front of a packed elementary school gym. Northwest side residents showed up to discuss issues with panhandling and homeless camps along with the problems they say those bring to the area.

Nanos says his deputies identified 14 intersections on the northwest side they will send their directive patrol to on Tuesday. Deputies will warn anyone panhandling on those medians that soon "no trespassing" signs will be added. The median is technically a county right-of-way. This does not include panhandling on the curbs.

Safety is one issue residents have with panhandlers on medians.

"If I'm driving, and one of those people steps out in front of me and I kill them, I have just wrecked my life," said Judi Busche, a property owner on the northwest side.

Others say the panhandling has led to more problems in the area.

"There are a growing number of homeless camps," said Nicole Brule-Fisher, a resident who organized Monday's meeting.

Busche has noticed that first hand. She says the number of campus has noticeably increased over the past two or three years and with that comes more garbage on her property.

At the meeting, she brought large displays with photos she took of trash on and around her land. It includes shopping carts, mattresses, even drug paraphernalia.

"We've walked in the wash for 16 years, but the last few years there is trash everywhere," she said.

Nine On Your Side found exactly what she is talking about in a different wash. There are sleeping pads, empty alcohol bottles, even a broken syringe.

Residents also worry about general safety in the community. For instance, a recent clean-up effort found more than 40 stolen bikes in a homeless camp according to Brule-Fisher. Also, there have been two recent murders among homeless in the area. A woman was found decapitated in October, 2013 and a man's body was found buried last month.

Pima County surveyed their land on that side of town and found 19 different camps with anywhere from two to five people. Last week, the county asked those individuals living their to vacate those 19 locations. They also gave them information on services available.

Nanos answered questions from residents for at least an hour, but he also brought up a larger issue. The sheriff says keeping the homeless from panhandling on a median is just a bandage, but it will not cure the bigger problem at hand: homelessness.

Cliff Wade, an advocate for homeless in Tucson, spoke up at the meeting. First, he says he can sympathize with residents.

"I understand their complaints. I understand all the people's fears and everything else," said Wade.

Despite that, he says making homelessness a legal issue is not going to solve the problem. Wade says when that happens, the homeless begin to fill the county jail which is expensive on taxpayers.

"It's very simple, you put people in housing. It's what we've been doing, it's what we're trying to do," he said.

Trespassing signs seem to be the answer in the short term. Pima County Attorney, Barbara LaWall, says criminal trespass law requires notice. Therefore, she says on private property residents can put up a "no trespassing" sign and call deputies if they find a homeless camp on their land. The deputy can then have that person removed.

Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller has spearheaded ordinances in the past to deal with panhandling. In 2013 and 2015, Miller says she brought it up to the board but never received a second. She told the audience tonight that she will bring up a panhandling ordinance again, but asked for support during the meeting.