Thursday, October 10, 2019

Newport "vagrants"
During Tuesday evening's meeting of the Newport City Council, the body was asked to address the issue of criminal vagrants in town. Kim Gregg, who with her husband Paul, invests in Newport real estate, asked the body to address the issue of "criminal vagrants, not the homeless." Gregg said many of the Newport vagrants are aggressive and she asked that the city post more anti-panhandling signs. She argued that in Knoxville many of the vagrants do not want to live in a shelter, but would rather live on their own, "and do their drugs and their thieving." She also said vagrants are having an impact on businesses, some of whom are afraid to open their doors in the morning. While she complimented the police department for its efforts to address the issue, she was critical of the local judicial system which she suggested puts arrestees right back on the street. " We have an ordinance that addresses this, it is loitering. It spells out vagrant, but they pick them up, put them in jail and they come right out. This is a big issue." Gregg said there are a number of good organizations that are trying to address the issue locally. Her husband, Paul Gregg told the council he has had to rebuild rental homes that he owns because of fires that were set. "There is nobody going to come into this city and invest with this filth, and these criminals running up and down the street. I'm sick of it. But it's not my responsibility to handle it....You guys were voted in to do something. I expect action or I'm not going to invest anymore." Newport Chief of Police3 Maurice Shults addressed the complaint saying his officers try to do their job and to respect all citizens. He said vagrancy laws were passed after the civil war, and freed African American citizens were arrested if they came into town with no visible means of support. But since then vagrancy laws have been struck down as unconstitutional. He said in Knoxville 17 percent of the homeless have a disability and 35 percent have an addiction. "We know that addiction drives criminal activity." The chief went on to point out that loitering laws have been found to be unconstitutional. And vagrancy laws basically said, "poor people do not need to be here so move on or go to jail. You cannot legislate (outlaw) poorness." Tim Dockery of Parks and Recreation said in the past when there have been disasters, the community center was opened for individuals to take showers. And more recently the center has been opened for homeless people to use the showers. So far this year, according to Dockery, 100 people have used the facility which is open from 1 pm to 3 pm, for such use. "these are not the same people but different people who use the facilities." he said. Dockery added that local churches have been assisting with the needs. Newport Mayor Roland "Trey" Dykes pointed out also that lots of the vagrants in Newport have mental health issues, at a time when our society is reducing services to the mentally ill. He said the issue is a complex one and he applauded the police department for its efforts.

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