Kent passes anti-camping measure
The Kent City Council has unanimously approved a measure that will ban people from camping in public places, specifically in areas along the Green River, in parks, along trails, and other green spaces.
"This ordinance is prepared in a way that's intended to balance the needs of individuals who are experiencing homelessness with the requirement of city to preserve the investments it has made to the general public, which includes parks, streets, sidewalks, our economic development resources, etc., to ensure that those are available as intended when this council establishes budgets and approves projects," said Pat Fitzpatrick, Kent's chief administrative officer.
The ordinance is an expansion of camping rules Kent has had on the books since 2000. The update focuses on activity such as fires, littering, and destroying vegetation in "sensitive" areas, such as wetlands, playfields, and trails. It also addresses city-owned property.
Fitzpatrick added that police have advised the council that there has never been an instance of not having shelter to offer unhoused people in the city, and that people "virtually never take shelter."
"That is what this ordinance is going to give us leverage to deal with," Fitzpatrick said. "And the sad fact is some people need that push to make the choice to change the situation they are in."
But opponents say there aren't enough shelter beds in the area for those in need. If no shelter is available, the ordinance "suspends authority to arrest and file charges for unlawful camping," according to a presentation given to the council before voting. People will still be required to remove their camps.
City leaders say they don't plan to do any massive encampment sweeps and will continue the current policy of offering resources and encourage people to accept offers of shelter.
The ban is set to go into effect in November.
"This is still only half the answer," Kent Councilmember Brenda Fincher said at Tuesday's meeting.
"We still need housing. We heard that housing is not available for people the police department runs into, but those are not the only people who are unsheltered in our neighborhood.... We've talked about tiny homes, we've talked about other forms of shelter.... We've suggested going to the county and saying we need more done, especially with winter coming," Fincher added. "More is still needed. This is only half of a solution."
Cities such as Auburn, Bellevue, Edmonds, Everett, Mercer Island, Redmond, and Tacoma have also passed camping bans.