Sitting or lying down on the sidewalk in Aberdeen’s downtown business area is now illegal from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., as the city council approved the final reading of a new ordinance intended to discourage homeless people from congregating on the sidewalks.
The vote was 8-4. Those favoring the new law are: Tim Alstrom, Tawni Andrews, Jeff Cook, John Maki, Karen Rowe, Margo Shortt, Peter Schave and Dee Anne Shaw. Those against the ordinance were James Cook, Frank Gordon, Kathi Prieto and Jerrick Rodgers.
The council also approved an ordinance that restricts panhandling.
Police officers can now issue a civil infraction to anyone who is sitting or lying down in the city’s business improvement district. The district is primarily bordered by East First Street, F Street, State Street, and K Street, and extends a couple blocks farther west on Wishkah Street.
Violators of the sitting or lying down ordinance would be given a civil infraction that carries up to a $50 fine, or community service time if they can’t afford it. Those who violate the solicitation ordinance would receive a misdemeanor and be fined up to $1,000. If the panhandling is considered “coercive solicitation,” it could carry a fine of up to $5,000.
There was a fairly large turnout at the meeting and the public comment period featured split comments for and against the ordinance. Some argued the rule is unconstitutional and will only make it harder for those living on the street to survive, while others were in favor and said it would improve tourism prospects and be good for downtown businesses.
Emily Nillson, from Aberdeen, opposes the ordinance, and believes it will distract police from focusing on more serious crimes and ongoing issues such as mental illness.
“Until we get a solution, arresting people for sleeping outside, criminalizing homelessness, ain’t nobody got time for that,” said Nillson. “We need our police to do their jobs, they’re good at what they do, and having them arrest people for sitting doesn’t work out for me.”
Council President Tawni Andrews created both this ordinance and another that was passed Wednesday night restricting panhandling. Andrews has said she felt compelled to create the ordinances after speaking with city residents and downtown business owners who are upset about homeless people lying down and sitting by their storefronts. She said her hope is that residents will feel safer shopping downtown.
“I’m very passionate that we all have rights. I have a right to go shopping. I have a right to be safe. I have a right to have my children be safe.”
At the closing comment period, Andrews said she is still working to create more policies in the future relating to homelessness in the city.
“I’m not done, I’m going to make more people angry, because I have more plans and have done more research,” said Andrews.
There are some exceptions to the ordinance. These include someone who is experiencing a medical emergency, someone waiting for a bus, and anyone who uses a wheelchair as a result of a disability. Those participating in a parade, performance, rally or demonstration are also allowed to sit or lie down. The ordinance does not apply to those sitting on a public bench or chair.
The ordinance to significantly restrict panhandling throughout the city was also approved, and by a larger margin. Only James Cook, who abstained, and Gordon, who voted no, were not in favor of it.
Because of this policy, solicitation and coercive solicitation are now illegal at night, and at places such as ATMs, pay phones, gas pumps, bus stops, while exiting a vehicle, and soon after entering or exiting a building.