Sammamish City Council holds after-the-fact hearing on homeless shelters

March 15, 2014

By Ari Cetron

March 15, 11:16 a.m.

It was basically a formality, but the City Council had to do it anyway.

After adopting an emergency ordinance and placing a moratorium on homeless camps in Sammamish Jan. 14, the city was required to hold a public hearing later.

It did so March 4.

Tent City IV, a homeless camp which moves around the Eastside, had been in Sammamish from October 2013 to January 2014.

The camp, which generally stays at churches, had seemed ready to move from one Sammamish church to another just before the council stepped in with the temporary ban.

At the time, city officials said they recognized religious institutions have a Constitutional right to host the camps.

However, they wanted time to establish regulations for the camps, which will strive to balance that right with the rights of nearby neighbors.

Before the hearing began, City Manager Ben Yazici said he’d directed his administration to make the process a top priority.

Kamuron Gurol, the city’s planning director, is head of the department shepherding the rule-making process. Gurol said the Planning Commission will begin discussing the issue soon, and that the City Council should have something before it in April or May.

One of the speakers at the hearing, Elizabeth Maupin, suggested the city might want to keep in mind some history and changes in state law as it goes forward.

Maupin, who works with Eastside religious groups who helps find places for Tent City, said the general rule for moving Tent City every three months was established as part of a compromise with the city of Bellevue in 2005.

But in 2010, state law was changed and cities can only regulate the camps for a limited number of reasons.

Cities can no longer decide how often a camp goes to one place, or how long it stays, she said. Maupin said Bellevue’s regulations are now too restrictive.

Since Sammamish is one of the first cities to tackle setting up restrictions since the change in state law, it should establish new regulations that recognize those changes.

“Sammamish, right now, has an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and to be a leader on the Eastside,” Maupin said.

Sammamish resident William Wheeler had a different take. He noted that during Tent City’s stay in Sammamish, there were eight arrests. Those who support the camp, he said, invite hazards into the community.

“In their zeal to help one set of people, they put other people at risk,” Wheeler said.

He suggested that the city impose regulations on how often a camp can be hosted at a particular site, and generally make the regulations as restrictive as possible.

The City Council has voted to approve the ban already, so after the hearing closed, there was no further discussion or action.

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