City report: Proposed changes to homeless ordinance; national EMS week proclamation

Note: This story appeared in the May 19 print edition of the Redmond Reporter.

A proposed change to a Redmond city ordinance would help de-criminalize the act of camping on city-owned land and would allow homeless residents to utilize parks, roads and public areas if there are no shelter beds available.

Ordinance 2775 was adopted by the city council in recent years and made “camping” in public spaces a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail for a first offense and increasing fines for subsequent offenses.

Camping is defined as sleeping in public spaces such as parks in tents or camping “paraphernalia” such as tents or sleeping bags.

However, a memo from the firm Ogden, Murphy, Wallace Attorneys from October 2015 advised the city that this absolute ban on homeless residents sleeping on public property could be a violation of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment.

Their memo was based on an advisory from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which took the city of Boise, Idaho, to court over a similar ordinance and won in favor of the homeless.

Consequently, the law firm advised that the city make an amendment to their ordinance, which would state that police could not enforce the ordinance if there are no shelter beds available in the city.

The proposed amendment also included a provision that people who were kicked out of shelters for intoxication or their behavior would not be covered under the proposed amendment to the ordinance.

In the 2016 One Night Count, a tally of homeless people in the county conducted annually by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, some 245 homeless residents were found on the greater Eastside.

This marks an increase from 2015 where only 134 were counted. The 2017 annual report has not yet been released.

The proposed change is in its early stages and was presented to the city’s Public Safety Commission during a meeting on Tuesday. It will also be presented to the Parks and Recreation Department in June and staff hope to bring it to the city council for a vote during early summer.

At the meeting, Deputy City Administrator Jane Christenson said passing this ordinance would give Redmond police a tool to help keep homeless people from camping in the park while respecting their 8th Amendment rights.

“Essentially, you can’t criminalize poverty,” she said.

Under the proposed change, police would coordinate with area homeless shelters to determine if there were available beds and possibly get them on buses to the shelters or drop them off.

However, the specifics of how police would work with homeless peoples under the new ordinance has not yet been established.

• In other business, at Tuesday’s city council meeting, staff held a public hearing on establishing boundaries for a tax exemption zone for multi-family development such as apartments or multi-use buildings. No private citizens spoke to the measure and the city council could take action on it in July. The action would create two zones, one encompassing downtown Redmond, which would allow developers to not pay taxes on the value of real estate improvements for a set number of years to encourage development.

Also at the city council meeting, the week of May 21 was declared National Emergency Medical Services Week in honor of medical personnel in the community. It was originally authorized in 1974 by then-President Gerald Ford. This year, the paramedics and technicians will staff an informational booth from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 24 at City Hall, where first responders will simulate a cardiac arrest and demonstrate technology and techniques.