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Lacey Planning Commission says it needs more time to form proposal on homeless camps

Lacey resident speaks out on plan for temporary camping sites for homeless

Lacey Planning Commission votes 5-4 to further discuss a proposal on temporary overnight camping sites for the homeless. Commissioners will discuss it again at a work session set for 7 p.m. August 20, 2019.
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Lacey Planning Commission votes 5-4 to further discuss a proposal on temporary overnight camping sites for the homeless. Commissioners will discuss it again at a work session set for 7 p.m. August 20, 2019.

After months of work on proposed changes to a Lacey ordinance that addresses homelessness, the Lacey Planning Commission voted 5-4 Tuesday night that they need at least one more meeting before they can make a recommendation to the City Council.

That meeting is set for a work session later this month.

Commissioners asked for more time because they are grappling with what they heard during a public hearing on Tuesday. They also are digesting a commissioner’s suggestion that potential residents of sanctioned camps meet a residency requirement.

The commission has been working on proposed changes to the city’s existing emergency housing ordinance. It currently allows a faith-based group to host a sanctioned homeless camp; the proposed changes would expand the number of groups that could host a camp to include nonprofits or the city itself.

In addition, the commission was handed the task of coming 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.

That task fell to them because the city’s recently approved camping ban ordinance can’t be enforced unless the police have some place to send those people who might be living out of a vehicle or tent on city property.

The city of Olympia has launched a pilot program targeting campsite and debris on city property with the goal of removing camps before they get too big.

The commission also needed to conduct a public hearing on the temporary overnight sites proposal. About 50 people attended Tuesday’s meeting and several spoke.

The hearing, compared to one in May, had a much different tone. The gathering was largely quiet and attentive, and while there was testimony on both sides of the issue, emotions didn’t run as high. The public testimony in May was overwhelmingly critical of the city’s plan.

Surprisingly absent from the testimony: No one brought up fingerprinting, a requirement that likely would apply to those in camps with no other identification.

Gerald Pike of Lacey spoke in May and returned Tuesday night to share his thoughts.

“I believe we have to try something,” he said about homelessness in Lacey. “Just ignoring it and hoping the problem goes away is not going to get it done.”

He said he has a son who is homeless. He lives out of a trailer and moves to a new state park weekly.

“He has nowhere else to live,” he said.

Michael Hanson of Lacey also spoke in May. He remains critical of the city’s plans.

First, he encouraged the homeless in Lacey to go to Olympia. Then he questioned who was going to enforce the hours of the overnight sites.

“Who is going to police these people at 7 a.m.? Are we paying the police to do that? Who is paying for that? I don’t want to pay for it. I don’t pay taxes for the police to do that.”

Following the hearing, commissioners David Lousteau and Daphne Retzlaff said they needed to “strip out” the proposal for temporary overnight camping sites and spend more time discussing it.

There also was concern about the 7 p.m to 7 a.m. operating hours and whether the hours need to be expanded.

And commission member Mark Mininger injected a whole new idea into the proposal: a residency requirement.

To prevent Lacey’s proposed camps from becoming magnets for others outside the area, Mininger suggested the following requirement: “They must have been a Thurston County resident for one or more years before they became homeless,” he said.

The planning commission work session is set for 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at Lacey City Hall, 420 College St. SE.

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.
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