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Lacey Planning Commission hands off homeless issue to City Council

Emergency housing? Sort it out, Lacey City Council

Lacey Planning Commission voted 5-1, August 20, 2019, to recommend to City Council changes to the city's existing emergency housing ordinance and to create a process and standards for temporary overnight camping sites.
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Lacey Planning Commission voted 5-1, August 20, 2019, to recommend to City Council changes to the city's existing emergency housing ordinance and to create a process and standards for temporary overnight camping sites.

After months of work, including two public hearings, the Lacey Planning Commission voted 5-1 on Tuesday to send its proposals for dealing with the homeless population on to the City Council.

And the City Council will have some additional work to do because the commission included a number of modifications and sidebar topics that they would like the council to consider.

Key among them:

  • Sort out the operating hours for proposed city-run temporary overnight camping sites, and
  • Consider whether those who want to use the camps should have to show proof of residency in Lacey/Thurston County.

The requirement was proposed by commissioner Mark Mininger to prevent the Lacey camps from becoming destinations for those from outside the county. Mininger, however, was one of three commissioners who were absent Tuesday night.

The planning commission made two recommendations Tuesday night:

  • Expand the number of groups that can host a 24-hour encampment under the city’s existing emergency housing ordinance; and
  • Establish a process and standards for creating temporary overnight sites in the city.

The latter topic has taken on greater importance because the City Council approved a camping ban ordinance in June. It prevents those in tents or RVs from camping on public property in the city, but due to a recent federal court ruling it can’t be enforced unless Lacey police have somewhere to send them.

Community and economic development director Rick Walk teed up Tuesday’s 90-minute meeting by pointing out the burden the homeless have placed on city services in Lacey.

In one 30-day period, Lacey police responded to more than 200 complaints tied to homelessness, or about seven calls a day that averaged 27 minutes for every response. Sometimes that call required more than one officer, he said.

Although the commission wants the council to consider the residency requirement, Walk, after talking to the city’s attorney, said the legality of restricting services to certain residents needed to be further explored. And then there is the question of whether it could be enforced.

“If someone said they were from Lacey, but had no proof, what would be done?” Walk asked.

As for the operating hours for the overnight sites, the original proposal called for an operating time of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., but some questioned whether those were the right hours. Will those in the camp be able to clear out each day at that time? they asked.

And right before the commission took its vote, commissioner David Lousteau made a radical proposal.

He suggested the commission forego a vote on whether to recommend expanding the number of groups that could host a 24-hour homeless camp and instead just make a recommendation on the temporary overnight camping sites the city would run.

“I still think we’re not ready on the emergency encampments,” he said, calling it the more controversial of the two proposals. His motion quickly failed.

Now, the proposals will come before the Lacey City Council, but Walk said after the meeting that a date hasn’t been set.

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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