Grove City has adopted a new law that makes it illegal for anyone to dwell in an car, trailer, van, truck, recreational vehicle or any other vehicle or equipment used for sleeping, cooking or other living purposes within the right of way on a street.
City Council unanimously voted Aug. 21 to approve the measure.
"It's not our intention to outlaw or discriminate against the homeless," city attorney Stephen Smith said. "The main reason for this action is our concern about safety. We don't believe living in a car on the street is safe."
Grove City could be the first community in central Ohio to enact a law prohibiting people from living out of their vehicle on a public street, Smith said.
"It's a situation that comes up hardly at all," police Chief Jeff Pearson said. "It's like jaywalking. I can't remember the last time we ticketed someone for jaywalking in our city, but it's a law you want to have on the books."
A recent complaint from a resident about a registered sex offender who was living out of his car in the area of Ohio and Marlane drives prompted the law, Pearson said.
Officers have tried to make contact with the man, but he has not been found at that location, Pearson said.
"We want to make sure he is registered properly for the type of situation he is in," he said.
However, the new measure is not designed to address that man's situation specifically, Smith said.
The general concern is safety, he said.
"It's not that unusual to have a motorist who's not paying attention, or who may be impaired, crash into another car that's parked on the street," Smith said. "That poses a risk to someone who is dwelling in a car."
Individuals who are homeless would still be able to live out of their car parked in a private lot, if they have the property owner's permission, or in a public or city lot, he said.
"It's just out on the public right-of-way that we're looking at here," Smith said.
If someone is found to be living in a vehicle parked on a street, police will first make an effort to educate the individual about the law and help connect them to resources that can help them, Pearson said.
"We wouldn't be ticketing the first time we make contact with someone," he said. "We want to help get them to a resource or organization that can assist them."
The law applies only to cases where the evidence is clear the suspect is using their vehicle as a dwelling, Smith said.
"This doesn't apply to someone who may have had a few too many drinks, puts their keys away and decides they are going to sleep it off in their car," he said. "It's not a one-night offense."
Truck drivers often sleep in their semis, but they aren't a target of the law either, Smith said.
"I've never seen a case where a truck driver parks on a public street to rest," he said. "It's always a parking lot or some other designated area off of the street."
Anyone found in violation of the law will be charged with a minor misdemeanor, which is subject to a fine of up to $50 but no jail time, Smith said.