Middle introduces temporary structure ordinance to address homeless encampments

Middle Township has introduced an ordinance to help maintain the safety and attractiveness of the municipality.

The ordinance to amend the Township Code to define and regulate temporary structures such as tents and canopies was introduced at the May 15 Township Committee meeting. A public hearing and adoption are scheduled for June 19. The amendment is not intended to regulate licensed campgrounds.

Although the measure has a range of practical applications, it would be a vital tool to address homeless encampments in Rio Grande. The tent set-ups create a fire risk and sanitation issues.

“We are concerned about the hazards these encampments present for the community,” said Mayor Tim Donohue. “Our Police Department is working closely with Volunteers of America to connect homeless people with the resources to help them get off the streets. We also need to address the other piece of the issue, which is ensuring the community is safe and clean for those who live, shop and run businesses there.”

The ordinance prohibits temporary structures that create an “attractive nuisance,” which includes those that draw trespassers; have unsanitary plumbing facilities or defective electrical equipment; pose a fire hazard or other danger; need repair or are structurally unsound; or are dilapidated or abandoned.

In addition, the ordinance specifies that temporary structures “may not be utilized for habitation.”

The measure also establishes requirements for dimensions, proper anchoring and setbacks – the distance a structure must be from roadways and property lines. Temporary structures are permitted for no longer than seven days within a 180-day period.

Violators are subject to a fine of up to $2,000 or up to 90 days in the county jail and/or community service.

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