KENT, Wash. — Kent is the latest to join a growing list of cities banning, or trying to ban, homeless camping on public property. Business owners say they’re frustrated by constant break-ins, but some wonder if a ban will help the problem.
The situation is unique in Kent because of a past law — the city already has a homeless camping ban from 22 years ago. But now, some city council members want to make the ban stronger.
Cash Thomas owns C&D Auto Sales Center in Kent. He knows the city isn’t alone in dealing with homelessness but says the situation has become more serious in his five years here.
“It’s really gotten worse in Kent,” Thomas said. “This is just a hot spot. A criminal haven up and down Central (Ave).”
He says they’ve had so many break-ins that they’ve installed bars and metal over every window at the business. Thomas says he’s also hired security and has someone constantly on the lot.
“It’s a big expense,” Thomas said. And now Thomas says he’s considered relocating. “In December, we may be doing some changes because we spend a lot of money.”
Next door, Bill’s Locksmith Service has similar challenges.
“A few months back, we had someone break into one of our side windows here and jump in. They didn’t really get away with anything. And just a couple of weeks ago, we had someone break into our side window,” said Jacob Roth, who works at Bill’s Locksmith Service.
Both businesses say it also impacts customers.
“Now we don’t have any walk-by traffic because now all the homeless people are stuck on the streets,” Thomas said.
“It worries me more for my customers than myself. I don’t want people to have to pull into our parking lot and have to see that or deal with that,” Roth said.
The Kent 2000 law already says it is “unlawful for any person to camp in any park or other public space.” According to Kent City Council president Bill Boyce, the city is proposing an update that will also focus on areas “destructive to the environment” and “disruptive to the property’s intended purpose.”
“Enforcement of the unlawful camping provisions under the proposed ordinance will be suspended when there is no available shelter except in particular locations such as: environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands and shorelines; park areas that are designated for a specified purpose such as picnic shelters and play fields; City rights of way; and City-owned facilities where business is conducted,” Boyce said in a statement.
Since last year, Mercer Island, Edmonds, and Everett have passed some form of banning camping in public places. Tacoma is currently considering a ban on camping within 10 blocks of shelters.
As for a camping ban update in Kent, “Well, that makes sense to me,” Roth said.
“I’m for the camping ban,” Thomas said. But he also wonders how much it’ll help the problem. “Where are you going to put them?” he asked. “Yeah, the police try to help out, but they can only do so much.”
The City of Kent said that in 2018, estimates showed about 180 people unsheltered in Kent but expects that number to have increased over the past four years.
The ordinance will be heard by the city council on Oct. 4. A final vote is expected on Oct. 18.
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