Palm Springs passes ordinance to stop homeless from sheltering at airport

A new ordinance is in place in Palm Springs aimed at stopping homeless people from using Palm Springs International Airport as a shelter. The city council passed the emergency ordinance unanimously during Thursday’s meeting.   

Council members, along with Palm Springs Police chief Andy Mills and PSP director Harry Barrett Jr. discussed the ordinance beforehand.

“Over the past year, the city attorney’s office has received reports from the airport department as well as the police department of homeless individuals using the airport for shelter, sometimes for many days and weeks at a time,” said city attorney Jeffrey Ballinger. “And so they sought the city attorney’s office assistance in drafting an ordinance that would ensure that the airport property is used for airport purposes.”

According to a city council staff report, PSP dealt with a homeless person who had been staying at the airport for six weeks this past fall. Around that same timeframe, PSP had up to 14 unhoused people on-site/in the terminal area for one week.

“The proposed ordinance before you tonight essentially says that if you are not at the airport for legitimate airport business, then you are subject to removal as trespass,” said Ballinger.

The ordinance presents several examples of what legitimate airport business is. Some of these include engaging in permitted commerce such as shopping at the airport, restaurants, or shops, renting or dropping off rental cars, and leaving/arriving at the airport as a ticketed airline passenger.

“The purpose of this is really to just ensure that the airport property is used for airport purposes and not as a shelter,” said Ballinger. “The city is certainly doing everything it can to provide shelter and other resources for homeless individuals.”

Palm Springs Police lieutenant Mike Villegas said officers will look for obvious signs someone is unhoused such as having many belongings. 

“The goal is to get people to comply and have them not be on the property unless you’re conducting lawful business,” said Villegas.”Our job is, firstly, to contact them and see if we can get them to cooperate or find out what they’re doing their what’s their purpose, and then we’ll go from there to conduct an investigation if we need to do an arrest or hopefully not.”

As president of the nonprofit Well in the Desert, Arlene Rosenthal regularly helps people who are homeless. 

“Bring the people from the different walks of life that are homeless to the table to tell us how they want to fix it,” said Rosenthal. “I understand how they don’t want people sleeping there. And they don’t want this. But then, where’s the alternative? What are we offering so that people are safe and do have a place to lay their head?”

Councilmember Lisa Middleton said people who are sheltering at the airport can get help at the Palm Springs Access Center across from PSP, along with other local nonprofits. 

“We have police officers who, when they do identify that individuals are doing that, are going to calmly and quietly inform them that they do need to leave, and take as compassionately as possible every effort to help those individuals find a place where they can get services. But they will not be allowed to remain at our airport,” said Middleton. “If you want help, we are here to help you. But if you do not want help, we are sick and tired of cleaning up after you.”

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