On Tuesday night, Oct. 18, 2022, the Kent City Council unanimously approved Ordinance No. 4443, which prohibits camping and other activities “that cause environmental damage and harm public property, and sets forth the circumstances under which unlawful camping is enforced.”
This ordinance will outlaw camping in public spaces by homeless residents, and according to the agenda packet, “will provide assistance to individuals to help them obtain alternative shelter, to temporarily store belongings, and to address any relevant underlying conditions that may have led to the individual violating the provisions of this chapter. Specifically, this means that the City will not object to an individual entering a deferred prosecution or the court entering a deferred sentence where a licensed or certified professional or agency recommends mental health or substance abuse use disorder treatment. Finally, no fines will be imposed as a penalty for a violation of any of these provisions.”
Numerous business owners and residents commented on the ordinance at the meeting.
“The use of public property for unauthorized camping-pitching, erecting, or occupying structures that intend to function as a temporary or permanent place of residence-creates dangerous public health and safety conditions; damages the environment; prevents these areas from being used for the purposes for which they were intended; and forces the City to shift its staffing and funding resources to address these harms,” according to the agenda item. “At the Operations and Public Safety Committee meeting on Oct. 4, 2022, staff gave a presentation detailing the effects of unlawful camping on the City.”
Here’s more from the packet:
The Legal Landscape
The regulation of camping on public property must comply with constitutional requirements. In 2019, and recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits cities from prosecuting homeless individuals for sitting, lying, and sleeping and taking rudimentary precautions to protect themselves from the elements in public when there is no available shelter. However, the law does not prevent the City from enforcing an ordinance prohibiting camping in certain locations, nor does it prevent the City from prohibiting harmful actions associated with unlawful camping, such as using open flames in unauthorized locations, littering, and causing environmental damage.
The Proposed Ordinance
Overall, the purpose of the proposed ordinance is to prevent the harm to public property that is caused by the activities of unlawful camping, storage of camp facilities, using open flames, and causing environmental damage. Generally, this ordinance continues to prohibit camping outside of designated areas throughout the City. In addition, the ordinance identifies locations in which unlawful camping is particularly destructive to the environment and disruptive to the property’s intended purpose. In these locations, the prohibition on camping can be immediately enforced at all times-meaning that the camp and associated facilities must be immediately removed. These locations include critical areas and wellhead properties that protect drinking water sources; portions of parks that are designated for a specified purpose, such as picnic shelters and play fields; City- owned facilities where business is conducted and employees work; highways and sidewalks; and properties owned by the City that are not open to the public and are posted with signs prohibiting trespass. While the authority to arrest and file charges for unlawful camping is suspended any time there is no available overnight shelter, the City may, regardless of the availability of shelter, file charges for failing to remove a camp located in the specified areas.
Importantly, prior to and during enforcement this chapter, the City will provide assistance to individuals to help them obtain alternative shelter, to temporarily store belongings, and to address any relevant underlying conditions that may have led to the individual violating the provisions of this chapter. Specifically, this means that the City will not object to an individual entering a deferred prosecution or the court entering a deferred sentence where a licensed or certified professional or agency recommends mental health or substance abuse use disorder treatment. Finally, no fines will be imposed as a penalty for a violation of any of these provisions.
At the October 4, 2022, Operations and Public Safety Committee meeting, staff presented a proposed ordinance repealing and replacing Chapter 8.09 of the Kent City Code. Since this meeting, the ordinance has been updated to add more details to the recitals, refine and streamline language, incorporate feedback received from the public, update the penalties section, and to address a new Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. These updates are shown in redline, strikethrough, and highlighted text in the attached ordinance.
Watch the council discuss and vote on the ordinance below:
Here’s an interview with Mayor Dana Ralph on the ordinance, courtesy KING5: