Editor’s note (3/3/2022): Senate Bill 1381 passed committee and will advance for further consideration.

NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – A new bill filed for this session at the State Capitol would make it mandatory for homeless camps to be properly permitted, like other campgrounds.

The state senator that filed the bill says homeless camps like the ones in his hometown of Norman are health and safety hazards. Others say he is weaponizing the permit process to do a quick fix on a problem

“If they can’t be safe then they don’t need to be behind somebody’s back yard,” said Sen. Rob Standridge

The Republican from Norman is talking about Senate Bill 1381. It would require camps to get a permit and prove when inspected by the municipality that they are up to code in sanitation and fire safety measures.

Standridge saying, “We even make people pick up their dog leavings at dog parks yet we let these homeless camps…it’s a big concern. In Norman, it is a significant problem and I think it’s a safety issue.”

“If we are truly a housing first city how can we consider exiling these vulnerable people until we actually have housing for these people to occupy?” said Norman City Council Member Brandi Studley back in November.

Photo goes with story
A homeless camp in Norman.

Homelessness has been a significant topic during Norman City Council meetings. But Standridge says the Norman City Council seemingly wants more homeless people in their town and they are putting their political interest over the safety of their citizens.

“They are treating the homeless situation just like they did the police. If the national urge is to defund the police, they defund the police. If they are watching San Francisco and thinking, ‘We need homeless camps all over Norman,’ all of a sudden, they are all in with that. So, it’s a crazy group of people that are running the city,” said Standridge.

“It’s so unfortunate that an elected official is so uneducated about what is going on in a community which he is supposed to represent. For the millionth time, the Norman police were not defunded,” said Norman Mayor Breea Clark. “We are actually looking for solutions to homelessness, not something that will keep them homeless, which I think is exactly what this bill does.”

But Standridge says camps and shelters don’t address the mental health concerns that are at the root of these problem.

“I’d be glad to get involved in those discussions on finding solutions and helping folks out, but allowing them to set up those camps without regards for the safety of everybody else is not the right approach,” said Standridge.

Opponents agree homelessness and mental health issues are big problems but say this bill is not the right way to solve the issue.

“That’s a problem that needs to be addressed, but weaponizing our permitting process and our sanitation process to do a quick fix is never a smart solution to an issue as complex as homelessness,” said Sen. Mary Boren of Norman.

“Writing a bill that is an unfunded mandate on municipalities that makes it illegal for people to live outside, it’s not the way to solve the problem,” said Dan Straughan of the OKC Homeless Alliance. ”Oklahoma City just went through a five-year battle with an unconstitutional anti-panhandling law that ultimately cost the city a million dollars in legal costs, and this will end up the same way.”

Homeless advocates point out that Circuit Courts have ruled it unconstitutional to not allow people to camp if you do not have enough shelter beds or appropriate options. The bill will be part of the new legislation available to the Oklahoma Legislature as it convenes Feb. 7.