Shoreline changes proposal allowing homeless encampments in backyards

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:

Thursday night, Shoreline residents discussed the latest proposal from the city on where homeless encampments can be set up.

At the center of the debate has been whether families can host homeless encampments in their backyards.

A proposal released in October would have technically allowed the encampments in single-family backyards.

“I think it's a public-health disaster, porta potties and people getting sick,” Maggie Willson said.

She got involved when she learned about those proposed code changes.

“I’m compassionate but I don't want to do things that aren't going to actually help,” she said. “My compassion extends to the working families who might have one of these tent cities next to them, who have all their equity in their house.”

She believes tiny houses make a lot more sense, as well as organized encampments where resource professionals are visiting regularly. Willson supports the latest version of the changes, which calls for 20-foot setbacks from other people’s property, requires additional criteria, and gives the city the ability to deny permits on single-family developed property.

 Brad and Kim Lancaster, who hosted a homeless camp last year when it had to leave its host site at a church and had nowhere to go, said both versions are unfair to the city’s homeless people.

“The last time the city did nothing and left no alternatives for homeless people, I took them home and I will do so again if I must,” Brad Lancaster said.

They said hosting a homeless encampment is no easy task. But, they said, the proposed code changes may force them to exercise their religious freedom and take in their neighbors once again.

Lancaster pointed to proposed 20-foot setbacks from other people’s property as a change that will reduce the number of sites available, including churches.

“Their intention is to prevent homeless encampments from being in private residences -- and the 20-foot setback does that,” Brad Lancaster said. “My property's 50-feet wide.”

When the Lancasters hosted a camp in December, 16 people, including four children and two pregnant women, lived at their home—either inside or in the backyard. It was a code violation but the city let them stay until March, when they moved to another site.

Now the camp is at Saint Dunstan’s church.

“It's safe,” resident Tom Sheehey said. “A place to be at be able to be warm and eat and be safe, mainly.”

Sheehey and others have to find a new host site by February.

The city told KIRO 7 it can choose to modify required setbacks on a case by case basis.

 

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