Local News

Public "Relief" Will Lead to Jail Time in Durham

Posted August 2, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT

— Raleigh is already ahead of the game when it comes to laws governing the homeless. Now Durham is giving it a shot. Monday night, the Durham City Council approved the Public Urination and Defacation Law.

The law allows police to lock up homeless people caught relieving themselves in public.

In the past, Durham police have had very little power to arrest anyone doing that, but residents in the city's Five Points neighborhood say it is a big problem in the area. City leaders say they're going after behavior problems, for the sake of the neighborhoods.

The Five Points area isn't the only place in the city experiencing the problem, but it does provide a good example of what city leaders are talking about. On any given Monday morning, parking lots in the area are trashed after weekend activity. City leaders say Durham needs a public urination and defecation ordinance to stop this cycle of bad behavior.

"Beer cans are left discarded, and people [are] urinating and doing other things in neighborhoods," said Durham City Manager Lamont Ewell.

"So, no, this isn't a case where you can argue, even if you're on the far left, that you're doing something harmful to the homeless. This is providing rights and protection to communities. ...We're talking health hazards, we're talking young adults who should be able to walk around and play freely in their neighborhoods. This is all being precluded as a result of this type of behavior."

Proponents of the law say it's a great step to clean up the city. But critics say the city is fighting the wrong battle. They say Durham leaders should work harder to find jobs for its homeless.