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'A setup for failure': Everett's 'no sit, no lie' ordinance unpopular with residents, homeless advocates

Homeless advocates said the ordinance only succeeded in moving encampments to different parts of the city. "They're just kicking the problem down the road."

EVERETT, Wash — A group of about a dozen homeless people was forced to move from a large encampment on Everett's Smith Avenue to a sidewalk along Wilmington Avenue this week. 

Camp residents faced 90 days in jail and $500 fines if they stayed.

Monte Ruble, homeless for about 4 years, said it was a no-win situation. 

"It's a setup for failure. The law is absurd. It's a setup for backfire," Ruble said.

After repeated complaints from businesses along Smith Avenue, the city passed a "no sit, no lie" law that prohibits people from sitting or lying down on a sidewalk within a 10 block area of the Smith Avenue site.

Except for a few holdouts, the large encampment that had been on Smith Avenue is gone. The site had been growing larger and larger over the past 5 years.

Homeless advocates predicted shutting the site down would be a mistake when the city council was debating the issue earlier this year. They argued no alternatives were being given to the homeless when they left Smith Avenue. Now, about 80 people are spread out over approximately about 15 smaller camps.

"They're just kicking the problem down the road," said Penelope Protheroe, organizer of Everett's Angel Resource Connection, as she handed out food and clothing to the homeless at their new camp. 

"Instead of staying there and solving the problem there they're pushing it out to other neighborhoods and having other neighbors wake up and deal with the problem themselves," she said.

Chris Madison is one of those neighbors. The Wilmington camp is essentially in his backyard. Madison moved into the home to take care of his 88-year-old mother.

"When I have homeless people coming in my driveway and asking for water, when my neighbor tells me there's a homeless person sleeping in his yard, that's trouble," he said. "I have nothing against the homeless, just don't turn my neighborhood into a dump. It's absolutely frustrating."

The ordinance was tied to the $1 million construction project of 20 tiny homes directly behind the Everett Gospel Mission. It can house up to 30 people.

As of Friday, 16 people had already moved in during the project's first three days.

"This is a great start, and we understand there is still lots of work to do," said city spokesman Julio Cortes. "Additional shelter and housing opportunities for this population is still greatly needed, not only to support those in our community experiencing homelessness but also to respond to the concerns of our businesses and residents who are also affected by those living without housing."

As for complaints that the city ordinance has simply spread the problem to different neighborhoods, Cortes responded in a written statement, "The 'No Sit-No Lie' ordinance has not been enforced yet as we see this as an education period. Our practice remains the same: (we) continue outreach in multiple parts of the City in an effort to make contact and provide support services and information to homeless individuals. We are asking for the public to be patient and understand that it will take some time to house individuals and offer them additional services."

    

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