Edmonds City Council considers fining and jailing houseless people who refuse help

EDMONDS, Wash. — In Edmonds, if a houseless person refuses services, there’s not much police can do. Members of city council are now considering a new ordinance that, if passed, would make that refusal a crime. Violators could be punished with a $1,000 fine and imprisonment of up to 90 days.

City council member Will Chen supports the ordinance.

“Unlawful occupancy of public land or property should apply to everybody, not just the less fortunate people,” said Chen. “For unhoused individuals, help, including food, medical assistance, temporary housing must be offered.”

According to city documents, if passed, the new ordinance would create a new “enforcement mechanism when an unhoused individual unlawfully occupies public property.”


City Council President Vivian Olson says this would be a last resort, a tool for law enforcement if things get really out of hand.

According to city documents, the mechanism “can only be enforced after shelter has been offered to an individual and they refuse.”

Janet Atchison lives in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood – right by the Interurban Trail. She recalls that last summer a woman camped out there for weeks and refused to leave.

“It was just horrible for all the neighbors,” said Atchison. “I took a bag of food over there because I felt sorry for her. I was really worried she was going to be there forever. I mean, it was just so sad, all of her stuff piled all around her.”

Neighbors say over time that woman became more aggressive. According to council members, it’s in a situation like this, when the person camping on city property is a danger to themselves or others, that law enforcement would intervene under the new ordinance.