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Homeless discussions | Planning commission presents permit recommendation to council
Homeless encampments will be allowed in Sammamish twice a year, if the city chooses to adopt the coding proposal presented by the planning commission at the council study session on May 13.
Commissioner Frank Blau, who presented the recommended permit, said that the commission was in full agreement on most of the issues.
Other conditions included that a stay be limited to three calendar months (with an additional five days to move on or off the site) rather than 90 days, and that the sponsoring agency submit a transportation/transit access plan with their permit application.
Mayor Tom Vance said he’s not sure a plan is enough.
“You can’t put the camp there and not have transportation,” he said.
Blau said it’s hard to nail down what would be adequate as far as a transportation plan. For example, if the regulation states that a site must be within a half a mile of a grocery store or transit stop, that eliminates sites when residents may be completely willing to walk further for transportation or groceries. He said they didn’t want to create language that was burdensome or over-regulatory.
The code also deals with background checks, stating that a warrant check must be completed on all residents seven days prior to the homeless encampment moving onto the site. The requirement also would include new residents asking to move in after the site was established.
The planning commission decided not to include a regulation that would require residents who have been absent for four or more days to have another warrant check, Blau said, explaining that it would be difficult to enforce and would be burdensome on the encampment.
Councilmember Nancy Whitten indicated concern over warrant checks, stating that they do not cover criminal records such as felony or assault.
Sammamish Police Chief Nathan Elledge explained that criminal background checks are not something the department can do unless there is a police investigation. When Tent City 4 was at Mary Queen of Peace Church, Elledge said that they did warrant checks on the residents, allowing them to see if they have an outstanding warrant for their arrest. However background checks were not performed. Elledge did say the city could hire a business to perform the background checks, but it would be around $10 per person.
Blau said that the commission talked about background checks, but explained that when planning commission members moved into the city, they didn’t have to adhere to a background check. Asking people to do that, he said, would be burdensome.
Several council members pointed out the regulations of other cities, asking why the commission chose to regulate certain aspects different from neighboring cities.
“We didn’t feel like we should be looking at numbers of other cities,” Blau said, referencing permit duration, frequency and other regulatory matters. “We thought about what would work best for our city (and) not just because other cities had that number.”
Blau and commissioner Mike Luxenberg were in the minority on one issue: length of stay.
“One issue where we did not reach a strong consensus is related to the duration of time that a temporary homeless encampment permit would be valid at a given host location,” Blau said in his report.
The majority opinion was that a duration should be limited to three calendar months. However Blau and Luxenberg indicated a duration of four calendar months would be more appropriate. Blau explained that a four-month period would allow encampments to return less frequently, it would provide more stability to residents, who often leave their jobs every time they move, and it would allow hosting religious organizations to provide stronger, consistent and more compassionate services.
Councilmember Don Gerend said he would support a four-month period, but would then like to see the regulation allowing two encampments per year changed to only one.
Councilmember Tom Odell noted that during the summer most schools in the area go unused so they could be possibly be a secondary site. However, councilmember Kathy Huckabay explained that once the encampment is placed on a vacant school ground, the sponsoring agent aspect disappears.
After a lengthy discussion, the council closed the topic and will pick it up again at its June 3 meeting. Mayor Vance asked the commission to update the city comparison chart and use that as the working document going forward.
City Manager Ben Yazici wanted to remind the public that the city allowed a homeless encampment to come into the city without even having an ordinance, and then extended that use because of the holidays.
“I want to have a thoughtful discussion at our June 3 meeting,” he said.
The council plans to formally adopt a temporary temporary homeless encampment code at the July 1 City Council meeting. For more information and to view the recommendation in full, visit http://www.ci.sammamish.wa.us/events/Default.aspx?ID=2981.
Kelly Montgomery: 425-391-0363; firstname.lastname@example.org