1. On Tuesday, the Mercer Island City Council is scheduled to vote on a proposal to ban all “camping” in the city, including sleeping unsheltered in public places and sheltering in a vehicle overnight. People who violate the ban—anyone who remains unsheltered in the city overnight—could be jailed for up to 90 days and fined $1,000 for each violation. Any vehicle that is used for overnight shelter, including RVs, could be impounded.
At a Mercer Island City Council meeting last month, Councilmember Jake Jacobson said the proposed ordinance “addresses public safety concerns [about] people who, but for this ordinance, would be staying in public properties for an infinite period of time and certainly are in a position to be of concern to people on the island. Fear—there is fear out there, and this is a way to deal with it.”
“And if people say they don’t want help and say, ‘I’m not going into shelter,'” Jacobson continued, “then they have made a decision to opt into the justice system.”
A federal appeals court ruling, Martin v. Boise, bars cities from passing outright bans on homelessness. Instead, it allows cities to ban sleeping outdoors unless there is no “available” shelter in the area—but the definition of “available” and in the area are very much open to interpretation.
The Mercer Island proposal gets around Boise by saying that police who encounter unsheltered people may direct them to shelter outside Mercer Island but on the Eastside, since Mercer Island does not have any homeless shelters. In practice, this means one of four shelters—one for women, one for men, one for families with children, and one for youth. In exchange for these services, Mercer Island would pay a consortium of Eastside service providers a total of $10,000 a year.
The bill defines “available” broadly, allowing police to enforce the law against people who can’t be admitted to their designated shelter because of the “voluntary actions of that person,” including :intoxication, drug use, unruly and/or assaultive behavior and like behaviors.” Under proposed ordinance, for example, if a homeless man was ineligible for the lone men’s shelter because he was exhibiting behavioral health symptoms that made him “unruly,” he could be seen as refusing shelter and jailed.
“If people say they don’t want help and say, ‘I’m not going into shelter,’ then they have made a decision to opt into the justice system.”
Mercer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes assured the council that then police were interested in helping homeless people, not further marginalizing them. “Rest assured… we won’t take enforcement action until there’s repeated issues,” he said. But Sergeant Mike Seifer, who presented the legislation to the council, noted that it was aimed at addressing a specific group of people—”about four individuals that we deal with on a very serious or consistent basis” in public spaces, plus “about six or seven that are in vehicles that are consistently coming into contact with the officers.”
One way or another, the law would allow Mercer Island police to remove those ten or so people from the island, either by jailing them in another city, such as Issaquah, or by sending them to a shelter off the island. Councilmember Craig Reynolds, who cast the lone “no” vote against the ordinance on first reading, noted that the city’s jail contracts don’t come cheap—jailing a person costs the city about $200 a day, or up to $18,000 for the maximum 90-day sentence.
2. King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci will replace her fellow Councilmember Reagan Dunn on the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s governing board, as we reported exclusively on Twitter Friday.
In January, as PubliCola reported, governing board member Zaneta Reid took Dunn to task for positions he has taken on homelessness, including his opposition to the “Health Through Housing” sales tax proposal and his efforts to fund one-way bus tickets out of King County. “Mr. Dunn—Reagan—I have not seen one article that you have been compassionate or even cared about what we’re sitting at this table doing. … How can I trust that you have the best interests of those that we are serving at forefront?” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan shut down the conversation before Dunn could answer.
Balducci said Dunn had asked to be removed from the board as part of the county council’s annual board assignment process in early January, before Reid confronted him on his record. “He didn’t make a big deal of the ask and there wasn’t a lot of rationale behind it, and it was definitely before there was this apparently difficult conversation,” Balducci said.
Balducci, a Democrat from Bellevue, said she would bring a different perspective to the board than Dunn, a Republican who represents a largely rural South King County district. “I just think we bring different perspectives,” Balducci said. “Of course, he has got the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,‘ personal responsibility kind of view that most Republicans have, but he also comes with a real strong commitment to behavioral health and recovery services.” Dunn, who opposed the creation of the regional homelessness authority, did not return our call.