The IU Student Association Congress passed a bill Tuesday night to work with the Bloomington mayor’s office to address homelessness and potentially relocate much of the homeless community that traditionally gathers in Peoples Park and on Kirkwood Avenue.
Michael Schommer, the representative for Greek South Campus, said he brought the resolution before Congress to give IU students more of a voice in city decisions because IU campus borders Kirkwood Avenue.
“Because there are so many students who make up the total Bloomington population, we feel we should have more say in what the community is doing to address the homelessness problem,” Schommer said.
Schommer cited an online petition started by IU student Joseph DiBenedetto that proposed removing homeless people from Peoples Park due to the perceived nuisance they pose. The petition got 685 online signatures, a figure that some representatives felt was not a realistic representation of the entire student body.
“At a university of 40,000 students, 600 signatures doesn’t mean much to me,” said George Pearcy, parliamentarian and off-campus representative.
Some representatives expressed concerns about the exact legal definition of panhandling and when it becomes a misdemeanor. They said many homeless people did not meet the criteria but some student groups, such as students collecting money for the IU Dance Marathon, did.
“If we’re going to use the reasoning of ‘it’s in violation of code,’ there are other violations of code, and it makes us seem like incredibly privileged college students,” Pearcy said.
Representatives also suggested the tone of the bill was negative and combative toward homeless people when it should have been phrased neutrally.
Some also said students who truly wished to work with the mayor’s office may not have gone through all the appropriate channels, such as contacting local representatives or going to open community meetings, before proposing the resolution.
Proponents of the bill argued it was a matter of student safety and giving IU students a direct link to the mayor would effect more immediate change.
The bill was amended so the Student Life committee would provide updates on the progress that IU had made to work with the city on the issue. The bill was then passed with three nays. Pearcy abstained from the vote.
Lori Reesor, vice provost of students, attended the meeting and addressed Congress briefly to gauge what students would be doing on election night and what the emotional tone would be.
“We’re curious about what election night will look like on campus,” Reesor said. “It’s been a contentious process, pretty intense emotions on either side.”
She also urged students to vote, which Congress executives reinforced as the duties of those who were simulating real congressional procedures.
The other resolutions, one expelling inactive Congress members and proposing new ones to take their places and one formally instating previously confirmed appointees to various committees passed unanimously without debate.
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