Breaking News
More () »

Mercer Island approves camping ban on public property

After three hours of mixed public comments, city council members voted to ban camping on public property, directing people to homeless shelters in other cities.

MERCER ISLAND, Wash. — There was mixed reaction Tuesday night as nearly 70 people signed up to share their thoughts during a Mercer Island City Council meeting on the city's proposed camping ban on public property.

After nearly three hours of public comments, city council members voted 6-1 to approve the ban. Councilmember Craig Reynolds was the only "no" vote. 

”I want to suggest that if you have any doubts about the need for this ordinance that you walk the streets of Seattle,” said Mercer Island resident Bonnie Godfred.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and some Mercer Island residents think this proposed ordinance criminalizes the vulnerable.

”I think that we need policies and ordinances to reflect the changing values of Mercer Island where I think the overwhelming majority of people want to live in a place that is diverse and inclusive and equitable and welcoming," said Robin Li, co-founder of ONE MI.

Camping is already banned at the city’s parks. The proposed ordinance expands that ban to include all city property, including streets. Anyone camping on streets or other property would be directed to shelters on the Eastside.

If someone violates the ban, they could be fined up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail. If there’s no room at any of the partnering shelters, the city can’t enforce the ban.

Supporters believe it will help connect people in crisis with important services while addressing safety concerns.

”Our city has a responsibility to protect our green spaces, parks, bike paths, and its own city hall and infrastructures from public health and safety threats.” said one resident. 

Robin Li and other community members signed a petition hoping to encourage city leaders to delay Tuesday's vote. 

”I feel like there's no reason to rush into this we can take a breath, step back., talk to community partners and figure out if there's another solution,” said Li.

Li says the city should be addressing social problems with social services, not police services. 

Mercer Island High School senior Hannah Heydon, opposed the ordinance, and supported the idea of delaying the vote. 

"I'm against the homeless ordinance and would like it to be delayed in order to come up with a more specific solution to prevent rising homeless numbers rather than passing something that will criminalize homelessness,” said Heydon.

According to ordinance documents, the new ban will take effect five days after it's published in the city's local paper.

Before You Leave, Check This Out