The Olympia City Council has approved new rules for permitted homeless camps, part of a larger effort to address the city’s homeless crisis.
The city’s existing ordinance restricted the number of camps, who could run them and how long they could last. On Tuesday, the council unanimously approved a revised ordinance that allows camps run by the city or other unit of government, faith-based organizations and nonprofits.
Camps can house as many as 40 people and must be at least 1,000 feet from another camp. They must include toilets, trash collection and storage for personal belongings. They will be permitted for six months but could be extended after a review by the city.
The group running the camp must submit a security plan and establish a code of conduct for people staying there that bans illegal drugs, violence, open flames, excessive noise and trespassing onto nearby private property.
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These are just the minimum requirements, said Keith Stahley, who leads the city’s Community Planning and Development Department. Groups could set more restrictions to serve specific populations — people in substance abuse recovery or families with children, for instance.
The city's existing ordinance was adopted in 2008 in response to a camp that sprang up on city-owned property downtown. It was amended in 2011 to allow for Quixote Village, a permanent cluster of tiny homes for homeless people on county-owned land south of U.S. Highway 101.
The revised ordinance was approved on an emergency basis and took effect immediately. The council will hold a public hearing in the next 60 days on the changes.
Council members said the changes were meant to get things started. Some issues that still have to be worked out are whether to allow registered sex offenders or people with arrest warrants into the camps and whether that information is passed onto law enforcement.
Another outstanding issue is if the city will help pay for the camps.
“When we go out to the community and we ask them to participate in this process, some will be willing to do it of their own volition,” Stahley said. “But I think it would be a lot more powerful if … the city is meeting them and providing some social service support and providing some facilities, whether they’re trash and garbage and sanitation services.”
In addition to legal camping, the City Council has said it wants to open a day center for homeless people and work with nearby cities on a regional response to homelessness.
"We need to make sure that we show what success looks like as a pilot, otherwise we're not going to be able to get buy-in from our neighboring communities," Mayor Cheryl Selby said.
There was no discussion Tuesday about specific locations for camps. About a dozen people who live and work downtown told the council that area is over capacity when it comes to homeless support services.