Sammamish City Council questions homeless camp regulations

May 21, 2014

By Ari Cetron

New: May 21, 2:14 p.m.

The Sammamish City Council was full of questions May 13 about a proposed set of regulations governing homeless camps in the city.
Tent City IV, a traveling camp of homeless people, took up residence at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church from October 2013 to January 2014, the first time it has been in the city. It seemed poised to move to another church, but that plan fell through.
The council established a six-month moratorium on homeless camps in Sammamish to give it time to establish rules surrounding the encampments.
State law allows religious institutions to host the camps, citing free exercise of religion, among other reasons. Localities may regulate the camps for general health and safety, but may not place an undue burden on them.
The Sammamish Planning Commission has been trying to craft a series of rules that walk this line, and Planning Commission vice chairman Frank Blau presented the commission’s recommendations to the council.
Blau laid out the recommendations and then answered questions about most of them from one council member or another.
The draft rules call for allowing only one camp in the city at a time, but up to two within a 365-day period. They also don’t allow the camp to be in the same location within 18 months. That 18-month clock would start when the camp moved in. So in theory, a camp could return to a location 15 months after it leaves, assuming it can stay in one place for three months as the draft regulations state.
A minority of the commission, including Blau, suggested the camp be permitted to stay for four months. He said it was the opinion of the minority (a 4-2 split with one absence) that the extra month wouldn’t cause a substantial burden on the community.
Blau acknowledged that other cities only allow for a three-month stay, but said there was no reason Sammamish had to do the same and urged the council to make Sammamish a leader in this area.
He also said it was the minority opinion that four months meets the state requirement that regulations not overburden camps, since moving so frequently is difficult for them.
Councilman Tom Odell thought that if Sammamish were the only locality allowing four-month stays, it might lead to trouble coordinating the camp’s move-in and move-out dates.
Blau said he could not see why the extra month would really make much difference in that respect.
Councilman Don Gerend said that coupling the twice-per-year rule with a four-month stay could mean Tent City could be in Sammamish for eight months, two-thirds of the year. He suggested there might be a compromise of allowing a four-month stay, but only once per year.

Backgrounds and travel
Two of the other larger sticking points were the idea of background checks and a transportation plan.
The regulations call for Tent City residents to be checked for outstanding arrest warrants and existing sex-offender statuses. People with either of those designations would not be allowed in the camp.
According to the King County Sheriff’s Office, there is one registered sex offender living within the city limits.
Councilwoman Nancy Whitten asked about performing full background checks on residents instead.
Police Chief Nate Elledge said police are not permitted to perform a background check on someone unless it is part of a criminal investigation. Warrant checks are permitted, though, and those checks also reveal an individual’s sex-offender status.
Council members were curious about how employers and others can perform background checks, but not the police. Elledge said those are the guidelines he’s been given, and it was noted most people sign a waiver allowing others to perform background checks.
Blau pointed out that such checks are not required of most Sammamish residents.
“When I moved into the city of Sammamish, no one ran a background check on me,” he said.
The draft rules also call for the host church to have a plan to transport camp residents to transit centers. Mayor Tom Vance said he was not sure a plan was sufficient, but that there should also be a way to ensure the plan occurs.
Blau said that seemed too burdensome, and could lead to unneeded regulations. For example, one discussion had been to require some form of transportation if the camp was more than a quarter-mile from a bus stop. However, Blau explained any distance would really be arbitrary and not fit every situation.
“There are people who would walk a mile to a bus stop,” he said.
The commission decided that enforcing the plan could be a regulatory hassle, and would be too much of a burden. Blau said the commission believed as long as the host organization presents a viable plan for getting people to bus stops, that would suffice.
The council will hold a public hearing on the proposed regulations June 3. It’s scheduled to deliberate them and take action July 1. The moratorium is set to expire July 14.

 

 

On the web

To read the Planning Commission’s draft regulations, visit http://www.ci.sammamish.wa.us/files/document/12829.pdf. To comment on the draft, send emails to citycouncil@sammamish.us.

Some tweaks

Council members mentioned a series of things they might want changed in the proposed rules, items the Planning Commission seemed not to have considered.

  • The transportation plan should also account for ways to get homeless camp residents to shopping.
  • Marijuana should be forbidden. Alcohol and illegal drugs are already prohibited, but marijuana is not mentioned.
  • Institutions with large child populations should be included in any notifications, beyond the current regulations, which only call for schools to be notified.
  • The notification process before any public meeting should be 30 days instead of the 15 days called for in the regulations.
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Comments

4 Responses to “Sammamish City Council questions homeless camp regulations”

  1. Anonymous on May 21st, 2014 3:30 pm

    Well I certainly hope the council does not only listen to the OPINIONS of Mr. Blau.

    There are over 1000 RESIDENTS who signed a petition asking for:

    1. Random background checks. Why? Because there have been several cases where residents of TC4 who passed an initial check were later found to have outstanding warrants. Why don’t all residents in Sammamish have to pass a background check? Well, if you live in any one of the apartment bldgs here you probably had to pass a background check before you moved in. If you bought a house here you probably had to secure a significant loan from a bank who probably ran their own background checks. Is there drug use and criminal activity in Sammamish? Absolutely. But let’s remember that close to 20 PERCENT of the TC4 population were arrested while they were here in Sammamish. Several of those arrests involved the use and sale of meth. And there is one investigation underway for a rape that may have occurred in the camp. We ask for random background checks because this is a far riskier population than the typical Sammamish resident. This should be something that we demand of the host churches since the camps will be on their property.

    2. Over 1000 residents in Sammamish are asking for an 18 month time frame between camps within 1/2 mile of the same location (not 15 months!) We do not think it is fair to place the responsibility of hosting the camp on one small set of residents in our city. The responsibility needs to be spread out throughout the city.

    Mr. Blau would like to see Sammamish have the least restrictive regulations on the entire Eastside but over 1000 residents disagree. We would like to see the same codes put in place that are already in place in Issaquah, Bellevue, Redmond, Mercer Island, etc…

    If you would like the council to adopt the same codes that are in place in all of the other Eastside cities then please sign the petition link below. We believe we all have a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate but that must be balanced with the very real risks associated with hosting a homeless camp.

    PETITION for HOMELESS ENCAMPMENT CODE:

    http://chn.ge/1ukhnuz

  2. Anonymous on May 21st, 2014 3:42 pm

    Furthermore…while not part of the petition mentioned above, there are many of us who would also like to see a restriction on the camps being in close proximity to schools (non-church schools). There are at least two other cities in Washington who have such limits.

    While TC4 was at Mary Queen of Peace there was drug use, drug dealing, a possible rape, and various other crimes taking place only FEET away from a private preschool, elementary school and middle school. This is simply not acceptable.

    I hope that the fact that none of the council members live near a church or have children attending schools near possible camp sites does not mean they will take the concerns of affected residents and parents lightly. While I’m sure they sympathize with the need of the homeless population (as they should!), they must take into strong consideration the wishes of their constituency.

  3. Michael Sullivan on May 22nd, 2014 9:02 am

    I had no idea that Frank Blau, someone who frequently comments on this site and writes letters to the editor, was Vice Chairman of the Sammamish Planning Commission.

    I can’t speak for Frank, but when I purchased property here in Sammamish, I had to reveal quite a bit of personal information to my lender, including my salary, bank statements, tax returns, lien searches, etc. Most people in Sammamish are also employed, which very likely means that background checks have been run against them by their employer. Anyone who rents an apartment is also subject to background checks – at least I was when I rented. So was my fiancée.

    This type of camp attracts people that are legitimately in need, but by its very nature, will also attract those who wish to do harm. It is the city’s responsibility to protect both permanent residents of Sammamish as well as residents of Tent City. Background checks are an important part of protecting both sets of people. I also find it a bit inconsistent that the Catholic Church (of which I am a member) requires thorough background checks of volunteers to prevent sexual abuse, but doesn’t do the same for people who are living on church property for 3 months at a time. This is a common sense safety measure… it should be required.

  4. Anonymous on May 22nd, 2014 10:21 am

    Yeah, Mike, it was very disappointing to show up to the Planning Commission meeting and see that Mr.Blau, who’s made numerous comments on this site disparaging those of us with concerns, was in charge. He clearly has an agenda and was never interested in giving any thought to the concerns of residents. Also, the petition was never even formally presented at the planning meeting even though we were assured it would be.

    I hope you plan on attending the next meeting :)

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