Skyway hours will be limited by the end of the year, but the Rochester City Council stopped short of banning sitting and lying in the public areas on Monday.
“My goal here is to have us moving slower,” Council Member Patrick Keane said, citing a desire to avoid unintended consequences as the council considers how to address homeless residents sleeping in the city’s skyways.
Facing a proposed ordinance that would close the skyway at midnight each night and ban sitting or lying throughout the day, Keane said the first portion might be enough to address community concerns.
“Let’s watch and come back in January to see if we need to do more than that,” he said, noting a warming center is expected to be open nightly by Dec. 1 to provide a place for homeless residents to go when the skyways are closed between midnight and 5:30 a.m.
Police Chief Jim Franklin said splitting the proposed ordinance changes will limit the impact for the planned warming center, which he called an “opportunity center” due to its ability to help connect people to other services.
“If we don’t go forward with the sit/lie ordinance, there is a huge gap in our effort to encourage people to visit the opportunity center and obtain much needed resources,” he said.
Mayor Kim Norton echoed the sentiment.
“There are some who don’t want to leave the skyways, and we want to help them find a home,” he said. “The skyway is not a home.”
Noting the need for more exceptions for people who may need to sit or lie down for medical reasons, she said the language could be tweaked.
Council Member Michael Wojcik, however, said he’s concerned about police officers who would be making decisions on when the ban should be enforced.
“I do not believe in selective enforcement,” he said, saying doing so would criminalize homelessness. “I don’t believe any good can come from selective enforcement.”
Council Member Mark Bilderback, who represents the downtown area, said police officers make similar decisions daily in a variety of other areas, including policing downtown for public safety issues.
Council member Annalissa Johnson, who joined fellow members Keane, Wojcik and Nick Campion, in successfully pushing to drop the sitting and lying ban, said enforcement was also an issue for her.
“If we are going to enforce things and have these rules in place, how are we going to do that?,” she asked, raising questions about implementing the proposal. “What is considered ‘sitting’? How long is someone allowed to sit.”
In the end, the council agreed to move forward with closing the skyway at night and specifically defining activities that have traditionally been banned in the skyways, such as disorderly conduct, smoking and damaging property.
Norton, who didn’t have a vote on the issue, said she was disappointed in the result but doesn’t plan to consider a veto of the new ordinance.
“We need the one that’s in place,” she said, noting that a majority of the council members have indicated a willingness to consider additional action if change isn’t seen in the skyways.
The new ordinance will get its first official reading on Oct. 21, followed by a second reading in November. While it could be enacted at that point, City Attorney Jason Loos has said the skyway hours won’t change until the new warming center opens its doors, which is expected to happen by Dec. 1.