Kent ordinance bans camping outside designated camping area
Oct 19, 2022, 7:34 AM | Updated: 8:47 am
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Another Pacific Northwest community has increased restrictions for homeless encampments, making it easier for sweeps and cleanups to occur, with the Kent City Council voting 6-0 Monday night to enact new rules banning public camping.
This new ordinance adds to the list of places people may not set up camp or spend the night, including sidewalks and parks, public buildings, or any location outside of an officially designated camping area.
Homeowners and business owners told the council they have become frustrated because of the cycle of rapid removal and return of tents, campers, and trash along the Green River Trail.
“They have set fires dangerously close to our homes,” said resident Kelly Wiggins Crawford, who has owned a condo for 20 years along the trail.
She says the number of encampments and crimes has increased over the past ten years.
“Neighbors have had the homeless wander into their homes, high and confused. They have dropped used needles where our neighbor’s six-year-old daughter picked one up,” she testified.
But others speaking at the city council meeting urged more compassion for encampment residents.
TJ Peterson testified there was a time when he also lived in an encampment and said he met many people who did not fit the stereotype of dangerous drug addicts. “There’s also a lot of people out here with medical issues, divorces, financial issues. The housing [costs] have run over a lot of people. I’ve heard people [say] teachers can’t get a place to live.”
Before council members voted on the matter, they agreed this was only a partial solution to the situation. And they decided to revisit the new ordinance and its effects every three months to see how it works.
There were also some changes made to the scope of the updated ordinance. They include:
1. Prohibiting camping on unopened city property, streets and sidewalks added to the list of prohibited areas
2. Adding a provision that when there is no available shelter, the ability to arrest has been suspended – but if ordered by police to remove camps, residents immediately must do so.
3. 48-hour notice must be given for encampment removal in most circumstances.
4. Penalties: Fines will not be imposed as penalties, and the city will not object to deferred prosecution or deferred sentencing options if an individual qualifies. The city will not object to a request to vacate a conviction record if a person requests it. This will allow the record of an arrest for an encampment violation to be removed from an arrest record. Employers and potential landlords would not know if an arrest occurred.
Mercer Island, Edmonds, Everett, and Tacoma have all recently added teeth to a similar anti-camping ordinance.