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Kent City Council votes unanimously to pass public camping ban

The Kent City Council passed the public camping ban after a rise in complaints from business owners and community members.

KENT, Wash. — The Kent City Council voted unanimously to pass a public camping ban on Tuesday night. 

The ordinance bans camping outside of designated camping areas to keep people from sleeping near businesses and along the Green River. 

Before the city enforces the new rule, individuals living in unauthorized encampments will be offered alternative shelter, to temporarily store their belongings and "to address any relevant underlying conditions that may have led to the individual" to camping outside of a designated area, according to the ordinance.

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Under the ordinance, in addition to ensuring anyone forced from a campsite receives shelter, Health and Human Services will monitor shelter availability continuously, and law enforcement will be providing treatment options.

City officials said filing charges against someone who is unlawfully camping will be the last resort. Kent Mayor Dana Ralph told KING 5 City Council removed any financial penalties from the ordinance, so a person will not face a fine if they are arrested.

“There is no fine involved in this,” Ralph said. “It doesn't make sense to fine someone who doesn't have the means to pay the fine.”

Ralph said the ultimate goal of the ordinance is to connect people to services. If someone won’t accept services, Ralph said “then it is to move them on into areas where it's, into not so sensitive areas.”

The revised camping ordinance was presented during an Oct. 4 Operations and Public Safety Committee meeting. Officials in support of the new ordinance said camping case reports and complaints have been on the rise.

According to the city, there were 60 camping case reports in 2019, 95 in 2020 and 72 in 2021. The city said there have been 68 camping cases reported from Jan. through July of 2022, with that number trending towards 116 for all of 2022.

Data presented during the Operations and Public Safety Committee meeting showed an increase in 911 calls that included the keyword “homeless.” The committee showed there were 234 calls in 2019, 488 in 2020, 465 in 2021 and more than 300 calls between Jan. and July so far this year. That total is also trending up, according to the committee, and is on track to reach an estimated 519 total calls for the year.

Click here to download and view the Oct. 4 presentation slides.

The city of Kent has also received regular complaints about illegal camping from business owners and residents who have environmental concerns about areas where trash is building up.

One of those areas is along Green River Road. In July, King County collected nearly 52,000 pounds of trash from a site where about 100 people were camping near the river.

The county said it removed nearly 69,000 pounds of trash from areas along Green River Road during two separate cleanups in 2021.

Credit: Kent City Council
A photo from a Kent City Council presentation shows a homeless camp. The council said the individuals staying there claimed “to be keeping the forest in order and indicated they would be caretakers of the forest in return for being allowed to stay.”

“We have a responsibility to the environment,” Ralph told KING 5 Wednesday morning. “It is not OK when you have open spaces that are being damaged at the level that they're being damaged, and that's running into the river and creating all kinds of environmental issues.”

Ralph said another goal is “that we always leave with compassion.”

“It's always going to start with the, ‘Can we connect you with services?” she said. “My hope and anticipation is that we're not going to have to use this [ordinance] very often. But it does provide another tool for those folks that are not willing to leave that protected space, that environmentally sensitive space or places with other public use.”

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