A homeless camp prior to crews cleaned it up in Mill Creek Canyon in Kent. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, City of Kent

A homeless camp prior to crews cleaned it up in Mill Creek Canyon in Kent. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent City Council committee approves camping ban on public property

A couple of residents question the ban and call for more housing options

A Kent City Council committee unanimously approved an ordinance to strengthen a camping ban on public property in an effort to clean up homeless encampments.

The council’s Operations and Public Safety Committee voted 6-0 on Tuesday, Oct. 4 for the revised ordinance presented by city staff. The measure now goes Oct. 18 to the regular council meeting for final approval.

“It’s about public safety,” Council President Bill Boyce said during his report at the Oct. 4 regular council meeting. “We want to make sure our citizens are safe, the people camping are safe and the business community is safe. We also want to make sure we are very compassionate about it, for the people who are out there to help them.”

Boyce said the ordinance will be on the Oct. 18 agenda under other business.

“We will have a little more discussion and then move forward with that,” Boyce said.

City staff proposed the ordinance to try to deal with homeless encampments along the Green River, in city parks and near businesses.

“We need to establish this tool again and make it more effective,” city Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Pat Fitzpatrick told the council.

Fitzpatrick, the former city attorney, said the number of homeless camping complaints to the city has increased since he began serving as interim CAO in the spring prior to his promotion to CAO by Mayor Dana Ralph.

“I can tell you since moving into the mayor’s office it’s the most common complaint,” Fitzpatrick said. “We get phone calls almost daily to adopt a camping ban in areas designated for another public purpose and our inability to provide them for that use.”

Rather than giving at least 48 hours notice under the current city code, the change will allow police to remove the encampment immediately if it’s in specific public areas.

Christina Schuck, deputy city attorney, told the council those areas include portions of parks developed for particular purposes such as trails and picnic shelters; environmental sensitive areas such as wetlands, steep slopes, fish habitat, riverbanks and watershed properties; and city-owned buildings were employees must report and where public business is conducted.

Schuck said the other key change that makes encampments unlawful is destruction of trees, an accumulation of litter and the discharge of pollutants such as human waste into waterways.

Fitzpatrick said shelter will be offered to anyone removed from a encampment. A team of two Kent Police officers, who deal regularly with homeless encampments, work with community organizations to help provide whatever help an individual might need.

“This isn’t the city trying to stamp out a problem, it’s trying to address the problem,” Fitzpatrick said.

He said the proposed ordinance gives the city a tool to develop leverage to get people the help they need whether it’s for a mental health issue or a drug problem or some other need.

“This is a tough parent approach to the problem,” Fitzpatrick said.

Although officers will have the authority to fine or jail a person who refuses to leave an area, Fitzpatrick said that’s not the goal of the program and officers will have discretion about what steps to take.

Residents respond

Several residents spoke about the proposed camping ban on public property ordinance during the council’s public comment period at its regular meeting, after the council voted at the committee meeting to move the measure forward.

“The city council should firmly reject the homeless camping ban,” said Cliff Cawthon, of Kent. “It’s not compassionate or productive, it’s about putting what we don’t like out of sight and out of mind.”

Cawthon said city leaders need to do more to provide housing for people in need.

“Let’s be clear, you cannot reject accessible homeless shelters, tiny villages and ban affordable housing from being made in many parts of our city and then ban homeless camping and ban people from public spaces, you cannot have it both ways,” Cawthon said.

The council voted 7-0 in May to direct city staff to review transitional housing as part of the comprehensive plan with a potential update for the council to consider in 2024. That decision shut down plans by Seattle-based nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute to open a tiny home village this past summer.

“If we want a solution to the homelessness in Kent, then allow a 24-hour shelter to exist in Kent,” Cawthon said. “And in the long term, pursue policies that allow for more affordable housing and opportunities to be able manifest here in Kent because shelter and housing is compassionate and necessary and that’s the solution to homelessness not some kind of cruel, small-minded camping ban to make only some people feel better while hurting others.”

Bev Williams, of Kent, told the council she supported the camping ban on public property. She said she’s tired of seeing all the trash around encampments.

“We want a solution,” Williams said. “Thank you for a taking a big step. You’re in a tough spot because no matter what you do, you take grief.”

Tye Whitfield, of Kent, told the council it needs to work to provide more shelters. She said the city has just three shelters, one for domestic violence victims; one for women and children; and one for single women. She said the three shelters usually don’t have any beds available.

“We cannot say we don’t want to see this and then not do anything to support something to help out our homeless population in Kent,” Whitfield said.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@kentreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.kentreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in News

t
Kent Police seek man who reportedly tried to kidnap girl from apartment

Man allegedly reached into bathroom window to grab girl in attempted kidnapping

t
Kent Police arrest man, 18, in fatal shooting of 13-year-old boy

Judge finds probable cause to hold the Kent man for murder, attempted murder and robbery

The Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center in Seattle that handles juvenile detention. COURTESY PHOTO, King County
High-profile juvenile crimes continue to rock Kent this summer

Six incidents in five weeks include fatal shooting, vehicular homicide, vehicular assault

King County Correctional Facility in Seattle. COURTESY PHOTO, King County
Kent man charged with attempted kidnapping of 6-year-old girl

40-year-old man allegedly try to take girl from apartment complex parking lot

Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. FILE PHOTO
Kent man receives 8-year sentence in 2021 fatal shooting

Pleaded guilty to lesser charge of manslaughter in shooting at apartment complex over parking dispute

Courtesy Photo, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
Judge finds probable cause to hold Kent man for kidnapping girl

Man, 40, reportedly grabbed 6-year-old girl in East Hill apartment complex parking lot

t
King County residential property values rise 12.4% in SE Kent

King County Assessor John Wilson begins to release 2024 numbers

t
Three 11-year-old girls in Kent help stop kidnapping of 6-year-old girl

40-year-old man reportedly grabbed girl in apartment complex parking lot on East Hill

t
Kent Police seek male teen driver in fatal hit-and-run on East Hill | Update

Teen reportedly driving stolen vehicle and fleeing police during Saturday, July 13 incident; victim identified

t
13-year-old boy fatally shot in Kent on East Hill near Turnkey Park | Update

Boy found shot near apartment complex Tuesday night, July 16 identified by medical examiner

t
Kent School Board votes 3-1 to send levy to voters in November

Capital projects and technology levy reduced from $192 million to $97 million after previous failures