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Edmonds City Council fails to vote on proposed ordinance making camping on public property illegal

Had the ordinance passed, penalties would be enforced if someone refused services like overnight shelter, if shelter space was available.

EDMONDS, Wash. — The Edmonds City Council failed to vote on an ordinance intended to reduce illegal camping on public property Tuesday night. 

The city council meeting ended before members could vote to pass or reject the ordinance. A motion to table the discussion indefinitely also failed to pass.

Under the ordinance, penalties would be enforced if someone illegally camping on city property refused services such as overnight shelter. Shelter space would need to be available in order for the ordinance to be enforced.

The ordinance would also allow the city to remove unlawfully stored personal property, after providing necessary notice. 

The ordinance "seeks to establish a compassionate approach to assist the unhoused residents of our city by first offering human service, including available shelter, and only causing the penalty provisions to be enforced when available shelter is refused," language in the ordinance states.

A first-time violator would be fined up to $1,000 or face up to 90 days in jail, or both. Those who violate the law a second time within five years would face a misdemeanor and the same fine and jail time - $100 of the fine and one day of imprisonment would not be suspended or deferred. Third and subsequent offenses would face the same penalty, with $500 of the fine and five days imprisonment not to be suspended or deferred.

Those unable to pay the monetary penalty would face community service or be placed on a work crew.

The National Homelessness Law Center, based in Washington D.C., sent the city a letter stating that if the city takes action it could risk violating the constitutional rights of unhoused people. 

Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson told KING 5 that is not what the proposed ordinance sets out to do.

"I'm confident in what our city attorney and staff have done to put together an ordinance we believe is lawful and humane," Nelson said.

Cities throughout western Washington have approved similar legislation in recent years. Mercer Island, for example, approved a camping ban on public property early last year. Ditto for Bellevue, where overnight camping at non-designated sites was banned. The Everett City Council approved an ordinance in March of 2021 that prohibits people from sitting or lying on a 10-block stretch of a problematic area.

Edmonds has worked to address homelessness and housing instability for several years. In 2018, the council set aside $250,000 and established a response fund to address the issue locally. A task force was also formed and a consulting firm was hired to assess the extent of homelessness in the city. A report was submitted by the firm in 2019.

In 2021, a homelessness task force was formed with the goal to provide recommendations on how to address homelessness, unlawful use of public space, and homeless prevention.

In March, the same firm that released the 2019 homeless report updated it with the latest data. It found the number of unhoused individuals in Edmonds is at least 450. An estimated 117 K-12 students are unhoused, according to the update.

Nearly 70% of people surveyed cited a lack of affordable housing as the biggest factor in becoming homeless, and 63% saying it was the reason they're still homeless.

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