Lawmakers seek to regulate homeless camps on church property

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By Emma Scher
WNPA Olympia Bureau

Washington cities like Lynnwood, Kirkland, Bothell, Seattle and Sammamish all have municipal codes regulating temporary homeless encampments.
Senate Bill 5644 would create uniform guidelines for the regulations cities can impose on religious organizations that  host homeless citizens on their property.
Cities would not be able to prohibit indoor shelters, limit outdoor encampments to fewer than four consecutive months, or have temporary small houses on site. The bill also establishes an agreement to allow fire safety inspections and sex offender checks on residents, and requires coordination with local jurisdictions to use Washington’s homeless client database.
“It recognizes the partnership that we as a state … should have with faith organizations who provide such excellent … boots on the ground in knowledge about particular communities and the needs of people who are facing homelessness in those communities,” said prime sponsor Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma.  “Their efforts will not go unnoticed.”
City representatives spoke in opposition of the bill, which they said limits the ability of the city to regulate these encampments and in some cases conflicts with ordinances that city councils have already established.
Reverend Bill Kirlin-Hackett is director of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness, an organization of religious and secular organizations which work to end homelessness. He said that the bill would facilitate partnerships between religious organizations and local jurisdictions.
“There’s not one jurisdiction that I know that’s taken care of all the unsheltered homeless that we have,” he said. “We need the faith communities to be the partners that work with the jurisdictions. We are more than willing to do that.”
A companion bill has been proposed on the House and executive sessions have been held but no action was taken. Senate Bill 5644 has not yet been scheduled for an executive session.

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