City may ban homeless from its hall

Staff writerDecember 4, 2012 

The Olympia City Council will consider an ordinance tonight to ban camping outside City Hall, which has attracted crowds of homeless people in recent nights.

City Manager Steve Hall said he proposed the ordinance because he’s concerned that the atmosphere the campers have created is threatening for employees and visitors to the building at 601 Fourth Ave.

“On Tuesday of last week we had an employee attacked by a dog,” Hall said.

The dog, which belonged to one of the campers, ripped the female employee’s coat and attempted to drag her to the ground, according to a staff report. The woman wasn’t injured.

Hall did not name the employee, and he said the woman declined to comment to a reporter.

The dog attack was one of many recent incidents mentioned in the city report. Olympia police cited another camper for urinating on the City Hall building. Another was arrested for making more than 100 intimidating 911 calls.

The day before the dog attack, the city counted 17 people sleeping or lying in front of City Hall at 7 a.m. Over Thanksgiving weekend, about 30 people were observed camping there, the report said.

People who use the building for evening meetings have also complained to the city, including eight last week; some were approached by dogs.

What the campers are doing is allowed under current law. The city’s Pedestrian Interference Ordinance, passed in 2006, bans sitting and lying on city sidewalks, unless they’re six feet from the edge of a building. But it applies only from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. During the overnight hours, homeless people set up their sleeping bags and huddle under awnings and next to buildings throughout downtown.

Hall said the council’s land-use committee is considering revisiting the Pedestrian Interference Ordinance, but said it’s urgent that the council act now on the City Hall issue.

The city report says it’s common for city staffers to wash away feces and urine from around the City Hall, which is not yet 3 years old. Items found around the building include syringes, condoms, cigarette butts, cooking residue, cardboard, tarps, sleeping bags, blankets and clothing.

“The main thing is, this is public space,” he said. “This is where the public expects to access city government and be safe.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor

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