A homeless camp in Kent along the Green River. FILE PHOTO, City of Kent

A homeless camp in Kent along the Green River. FILE PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent City Council to consider camping ban on public property

Effort to address issues with people sleeping near businesses or along Green River

The Kent City Council plans to consider an ordinance that would ban camping outside of designated camping areas in an effort to clear people from sleeping near businesses or along the Green River.

The council is expected to discuss the ordinance at its Operations and Public Safety Committee meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4 at City Hall, 220 Fourth Ave. S., said Council President Bill Boyce in a Sept. 23 phone interview. The council could vote on the measure Oct. 18.

“We are getting a lot of complaints from the business community,” Boyce said about the reasons for the proposal. “We can’t have people (staying) in public places not designated for camping. We want to make sure we address the issues.

“Down by the river it’s an environmental thing that we have to abide by,” Boyce said. “With the wetlands and slopes, we have to make sure those places are maintained.”

Boyce said the city has a camping ordinance but it has not been modified for years. He said city staff will bring an ordinance with modifications to the existing ordinance in an effort to ban camping in public areas where camping isn’t allowed.

“People can’t just go to an unauthorized place and leave feces and needles and drugs,” Boyce said. “We need to make sure people understand the places they can go and can’t go.”

Boyce said specifics of the ordinance are still being worked out, including any potential shelter options where people could go and any possible penalty or fine if they do not move from an area where camping is banned.

“We haven’t discussed enforcement or penalties yet,” Boyce said.

The city of Edmonds voted 5-2 in May to make it unlawful for anyone to occupy public property overnight if “available” shelter is refused. Shelter will be considered available if it’s within a 35-mile radius of Edmonds City Hall and the person is eligible to stay there. The law can’t be enforced if authorities can’t find an appropriate place.

Boyce said Kent’s ordinance would have shelter requirements but he didn’t know details yet about how that might work or what other council members are thinking about the proposed ordinance.

“We have seven council members so it will be interesting to see how the conversations go,” Boyce said. “We’ve had a little conversation but nothing in depth.”

The other council members are Les Thomas, Brenda Fincher, Toni Troutner, Marli Larimer, Satwinder Kaur and Zandria Michaud.

The Tacoma City Council recently postponed a vote to ban homeless camps within a 10-block radius of temporary shelters in the city. It’s expected to consider the measure again in October.

Kent city staff and council are expected to address the Martin v. Boise (Idaho) rulings by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives.

The Kent Chamber of Commerce recently encouraged its members to attend the council committee meeting Oct. 4

“The commission will not take public comment at this workshop; however, if you are in support of this initiative, you can attend the workshop, and hear details of the ordinance,” according to the Chamber statement. “We strongly recommend a show of support by attending.”

The Chamber also recommended its members attend the regular council meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 4

“It’s always a good idea to show up and provide your input during the public comment period,” according to the Chamber. “This is an opportunity to express your concerns or support of city (leaders) taking action.”

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