Council passes reports that adjust homeless policies

The Aberdeen City Council passed two items regarding access to the city’s riverfront homeless camp at Wednesday night’s council meeting — part of an agreement in a federal lawsuit against the city.

The first was a resolution that adopts new rules for people wishing to enter the riverfront property, where more than 100 homeless people have been living for months. The most notable change is that visitors to the property do not need to obtain any permits or advance permission to do so. The resolution also outlines new time, manner and place restrictions, like not allowing visits outside of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours, and that weapons, alcohol and illegal drugs are prohibited on the property. It was unanimously passed without discussion by council members

The council also passed the first reading of an ordinance that supplements the camps regulations, allowing the public a chance to give feedback before it’s potentially approved at a third reading in a few weeks.

The ordinance says it’s intended to prevent harm to public health or safety by limiting access to the riverfront property “to the greatest extent possible, while respecting the rights of those individuals the city has allowed to remain on the River Street property until a transitional period has expired and seasonal conditions are more conductive to obtaining alternative shelter arrangements.”

In addition to those two actions, the city’s legal department proposed an ordinance amending the city’s overnight camping restrictions in response to a federal court case that ruled cities cannot arrest people for being homeless. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with six homeless people in Boise last year, after the six sued the city over a local ordinance that banned sleeping in public spaces. The decision led multiple cities around the country to adjust their policies relating to crimes on public camping for the homeless.

The proposed amendment in Aberdeen would make it so police cannot enforce a misdemeanor crime on homeless people who camp on street right-of-way that is not reserved for vehicle or pedestrian travel if there is no overnight shelter available for homeless individuals of families. The first reading of the amendment was passed unanimously.

City Attorney Patrice Kent said she had been looking into this topic for several months, and didn’t realize initially that the city’s ordinances allowed for the arrest of homeless people camping in public in some cases. Kent added that Aberdeen Police Chief Steve Shumate confirmed to her that police have not criminally cited inidividuals for violating the public camping code since the Boise decision came out in September last year.

The amendment does not affect the city’s ordinance that restricts people from sitting or lying down on downtown sidewalks between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.