KENT, Wash. — There’s a new rule in the city of Kent: Authorities can tell anyone found camping on a sidewalk or in a park to move immediately. Kent City Council unanimously passed the new ordinance Tuesday night.
The situation is unique in Kent because of an existing law. The city already has a homeless camping ban passed 22 years ago. But the new ordinance will make the ban stronger by focusing on camping in areas where it is “destructive to the environment” and “disruptive to the property’s intended purpose.”
That includes areas such as wetlands, parks, picnic shelters, playfields and city-owned facilities.
Kent’s Mayor, Dana Ralph says this new ban gives the old law new teeth.
“We know what we’re doing now isn’t working, just allowing people to live this way,” said Ralph. “We should care about people more than allowing them to sleep in a tent in the mud without any services.”
The mayor also says, the law is not meant to be punitive but rather an incentive to make a choice. If an authority asks an individual to move and they refuse, they’ll be placed in front of a judge. However, if that individual follows through on the judge’s orders they will wipe that conviction clean.
Before the Kent City Council voted on the ordinance, the floor was opened for public comment. Everyone who spoke touched on the ordinance. One of them was a business owner who has lived in Kent for over 30 years.
“I have not in all the years seen our homeless population grow so much as it has now. I am in favor of the ordinance, but I am in favor of making sure that it’s just not moving people to move them, that we also seek services for them, we seek affordable housing,” said Randal Smith.
City officials said shelter and services are offered to every person in an encampment that’s being cleared.
Since last year, Mercer Island, Edmonds, Everett and Tacoma have passed some form of ban on camping in public places.
Ralph says this is different. There will be no thousand-dollar fine for violators like there is in Edmonds.
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