Lacey to consider overnight camping sites for the homeless -- and fingerprinting

More chairs needed as dozens pack hearing on Lacey homelessness plan

More than 50 people attended a Lacey Planning Commission hearing Tuesday, May 22, 2019. Many spoke out against a proposal to address homelessness.
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More than 50 people attended a Lacey Planning Commission hearing Tuesday, May 22, 2019. Many spoke out against a proposal to address homelessness.

When Lacey City Council approved a camping ban ordinance to prevent tents and RVs from setting up in public places, some said the city was putting the “cart before the horse.”

How would Lacey enforce the ban if there was no place in the city for those living out of tents or RVs to go?

Now, the city is about to answer that question.

The Lacey Planning Commission — already busy with a proposal that would expand the number of groups that could host a sanctioned homeless camp under the city’s emergency housing ordinance — has been handed an additional task, planning commission manager Ryan Andrews said Thursday.

That task is to come up with standards and a permitting process for the creation of temporary overnight sites in the city that would host tents and/or vehicles between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

A public hearing on the topic is set for Aug. 6, he said.

The commission also has been busy fine-tuning the earlier proposal.

The city currently allows only faith-based organizations to host homeless encampments. Under the proposed changes, nonprofits or a unit of government also would be able to host encampments.

Andrews told a public hearing audience in May that hosting and running an encampment is sometimes beyond the capacity of a church. Under the proposal, a church could host the encampment and a nonprofit could run it, he said.

The proposed changes also would establish standards for public health and safety as well as sanitation.

Since the public hearing in May, and the two planning commission work sessions that followed it, Andrews said the commission has come up with additional changes for the proposal, including:

Replace “unit of government” with city of Lacey.

Require notification of North Thurston Public Schools when there’s an application for emergency housing.

Limit the number of homeless residents per camp to 20, down from 40, for a faith-based or non-profit camp, but not limit the number of residents in a city-operated camp.

Require identification for potential camp residents. If they don’t have identification, then fingerprinting by the Lacey Police Department will be required. This is not a new proposal, but is an existing requirement under the city’s existing emergency housing ordinance that likely would be applied to the temporary overnight sites.

Prohibit alcohol.

Require periodic review of the sites so there’s not an over-proliferation of them.

The commission is an advisory body, so they are charged with ultimately making a recommendation to Lacey City Council. It could happen after the next public hearing in August or later this summer, Andrews said.

“It’s our hope that it’s sooner rather than later,” he said.

That hearing is set for 7 p.m. Aug. 6 at Lacey City Hall, 420 College St. SE.

Camping ban update

Meanwhile, City Manager Scott Spence recently briefed Lacey City Council on how the camping ban ordinance is working.

The approved ordinance makes it “unlawful for any person to store personal property, including camp facilities (tents, vehicles) and camp paraphernalia” in any park, street or “any publicly owned parking lot or publicly owned area, improved or unimproved.”

Violating the ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by imprisonment not to exceed 90 days, or both, according to the ordinance.

However, if police determine the person living out of the tent or RV is homeless and has no where else to go, the officer will determine if adequate shelter space is available. If shelters are full, a citation will not be issued.

Spence said no citations have been issued. Police have been able to use the ordinance as a way to engage with those in tents or RVs, and have learned that those they have contacted are camping on roads, in subdivisions or in the back of parking lots as a last resort.

They often park at City Hall, Spence said. He said as many as 20 RVs are sometimes in the City Hall lot.

Follow more of our reporting on Homelessness in Thurston County

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Rolf has worked at The Olympian since August 2005. He covers breaking news, the city of Lacey and business for the paper. Rolf graduated from The Evergreen State College in 1990.