SUNNYSIDE — At its 13th remote meeting since the COVID-19 restrictions began, the city council approved a hotly contested public camping ordinance denoting not only where people can camp inside the city but how they may camp on public property.

Council voted 7-0 to approve the ordinance, but several like Councilman Mike Farmer were not impressed by the lack of teeth in the new law.

The ordinance spells out the penalties for illegal camping - upwards of a $1,000 fine - for enforcement of the encampments, mechanisms for clean-up and removal of unauthorized encampments, and enforcement of all of the above will be suspended when no meaningful shelter alternative for homeless individuals are available, City Manager Martin Casey explained, per the Ninth District Court’s decision in Martin v. Boise case.

“I’m disappointed in this ordinance,” declared Councilman Mike Farmer, who has originally brought up the idea to have a city policy to deal with the clean-up and removal of homeless in downtown areas.

“I understand the legality of the situation, but I feel more research must be done to make it stronger.” Farmer conceded, “I’m guessing it is a starting place.”

The ordinance came about when public concern about an encampment of homeless people were raised earlier this year. By July, the business owners in the area had reached out to councilmen and city hall to have the people removed from the public parking lot located on South Seventh Street. Some had already taken it upon themselves to work with the homeless individuals to seek what they might need to get into more suitable housing situations.

“So basically, the homeless can still pitch a tent in the park,” queried Farmer.

“Long answer short – yes,” Casey admitted.

Casey also told the council Monday, Aug. 24, that overtures to the Yakima County Homeless Network have resulted in one family living at the parking lot being relocated to Yakima. A second individual was also being help by the Network, he reported.

Julia Hart can be reached at 509-837-4500, ext. 123 or at jhart@sunnysidesun.com

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