City Manager Steve Hall proposed the ordinance after many recent incidents at the 2-year-old building at 601 Fourth Ave. E. including a dog attack that left some visitors and employees feeling unsafe. The ordinance would have gone into effect immediately if a supermajority of the seven-member council agreed to it.
This is about what I think is a crisis of public safety in the heart of city government, Hall told the council.
But council members were split on the proposal, and concurred with Mayor Stephen Buxbaums plan to bring the issue back to the council next week after the citys land-use committee holds a meeting about it Thursday. Thats planned for 5:30 p.m. at City Hall and is open to the public
Council members also agreed, at Buxbaums suggestion, to tap a $45,000 fund as an interim measure to pay for police and social services to address the issue.
Councilwoman Jeannine Roe expressed support for the camping ban and said she wasnt sure what on Gods green earth are we going to come up with in a week?
Also supporting the ban was Councilwoman Julie Hankins, who said it wasnt about criminalizing homelessness but, rather, upholding a social contract.
Councilwoman Karen Rogers suggested that the city give the campers a week to address the problems, and if they persist, to act then.
But Councilman Nathaniel Jones said the city needs to find a wider solution, not just one that addresses the block where City Hall sits. Councilman Steve Langer, who chairs the land-use committee, agreed.
I think that we need to have an overall solution to this, and I also think that there are health and safety issues as well as expecting people to take responsibility for their behavior regardless of their status, he said.
Councilman Jim Cooper, who was absent, registered his opposition to the camping ban in an email. This ordinance is ineffective governance, plain and simple, he wrote. Even the feds agree. According to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, policies such as these criminalize homelessness by making acts of living illegal.
Cooper wrote that the city needs to do more to address the homeless problem, including more low-barrier shelter space. Low-barrier typically means shelter that admits those who are drunk or have other issues that would have them turned away at a higher-barrier shelter such as The Salvation Army, which is the only shelter in town accepting single men.
On some nights, dozens of people huddle in sleeping bags next to City Hall, where a large overhang protects them from the rain. Damien Williams of Juneau, Alaska, said hes stayed there for the last two months because its dry. Its a safe place for people to come in and stay out of the rain.
Williams said he thought the ordinance was unnecessary and that the city should make sure people abide by the rules.
Hall, the city manager, cited a laundry list of issues as reasons to act immediately.
The dog attacked a female employee last week; though the woman was uninjured, her coat was ripped. The day before the dog attack, the city counted 17 people camping there overnight. Over Thanksgiving weekend, about 30 people were observed camping there.
Olympia police cited another camper for urinating on the City Hall building. Another was arrested for making more than 100 intimidating 911 calls.
People who use the building for evening meetings have also complained to the city, including eight people last week; some were approached by dogs.
The city report says its common for city staffers to wash away feces and urine from around 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.
Williams said he cleans up the trash.
Current law allows people to sleep next to the building during the overnight hours. The citys Pedestrian Interference Ordinance, passed in 2006, bans sitting and lying on city sidewalks, unless theyre six feet from the edge of a building. The ban is in effect only from 7 a.m.-11 p.m.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org @MattBatcheldor