The Aberdeen City Council will vote Wednesday on a proposed ordinance that would prohibit sitting and lying down in the city’s downtown area between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.
If it’s passed, anyone who is sitting or lying down in the downtown area during those hours can be told by a police officer that they need to move. Failure to do so would mean a civil violation and result in a fine of up to $50, or a community service requirement, if they cannot pay that amount.
The ordinance will only be enforced in the downtown parking and improvement district, and is intended to reduce the number of homeless people congregating on the sidewalks and in building alcoves.
At the council’s last meeting, council member John Maki proposed expanding the hours the prohibition would be in force after speaking with some in the downtown community. The original proposal was from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“I have been approached by several public people who spend time downtown, and they feel the hours would be better if extended later into the evening since there are a lot of people downtown visiting restaurants and bars,” he said.
The amendment passed the roll call vote, with six council members voting in favor of the longer times, and five against it.
Eight people spoke during the public hearing at that meeting. Most of the testimonies were against the new bill, but a couple were in favor of it.
Aberdeen resident Mike Nelson referenced several sections of the Constitution that he believes are being violated by the ordinance. One of them is a section that states no Bill of Attainder shall be passed, meaning a law that has a negative effect and targets a specific person or group of people.
“Even though the verbiage in the ordinances don’t explicitly name homeless people or those without homes as the target, it’s clear from the public comments and online discussion that they are the target,” Nelson said. “Based on that alone, these ordinances are unconstitutional.
“You’re making it illegal for children to sit on the sidewalk and play Pokemon Go, or to sit in protest. The First Amendment is freedom of speech and expression. If you want to express yourself, sit on the sidewalk, you have that freedom. This ordinance challenges that, and stomps on the freedom of the people.”
Robin Moore, who referred to herself as one of the “Raging Grannies,” a group of activists who have performed at several rallies and demonstrations, sang a song advocating for homeless peoples’ rights.
“I believe that what you’re doing has the illusion of doing something, giving the business owners the illusion this will help them,” she said before singing and playing ukulele.
Council member Karen Rowe, who’s a co-owner of GH Wine Sellars in downtown Aberdeen, said issues with people loitering near her store have been worse in recent weeks.
“It really is a problem, businesses are affected, taxes are affected, the bottom line is the money that comes in, the taxes that pay for the services, that’s how it works,” Rowe said at the meeting. “If we can get more people to feel safe and shop and promote our community, we need to do this.”
She later told The Daily World that she does believe a plan needs to be made for where the homeless people will go if the ordinance is enforced, and that some on the council have been working on that issue.
“There are some of us on council and with other organizations that have been working on putting together the hopes for a sleep center, for example,” she said. “… Hopefully, we can work together with the current organizations and some other people, and create a place for them to go.”
In addition, the council has passed an ordinance that would “restrict place of solicitation and restrict coercive solicitation.” Council President Tawni Andrews said the bill is intended “as a way to curb panhandling.” If passed, the solicitation restriction ordinance would apply to all of Aberdeen.
“My ideal was if people are (panhandling) repeatedly, and a police officer sees them, they have the ability to stop that person,” Andrews said.