Deer Park’s Ordinance: Homelessness & Public Spaces

Deer Park City Council has enacted a law addressing homelessness and public space usage. Influenced by legal considerations at the federal level, the ordinance introduces clear definitions, identifies restricted areas, and establishes procedures for homeless camp removal.

The city council approved an ordinance that enforces restrictions on locations where homeless activities are prohibited, emphasizing the city’s intent to regulate specific spaces. However, as the ordinance stands, homeless individuals may find it challenging to navigate the local laws, unsure of where they can stay without risking penalties. This uncertainty brings a need for transparent and equitable policies that respect the rights and dignity of all citizens, including those facing homelessness.

The ordinance is a direct response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Martin v. City of Boise. The court’s ruling deemed it unconstitutional for cities to enforce ordinances that criminalize camping on all public property at all times.

The City Council chose to bypass the traditional three-read process and in meeting discussion to expedite the ordinance’s implementation. The three-read process typically allows for more extensive community discussion, feedback, and time for contemplation and research before enacting new laws.

Of particular note are the ordinance’s provisions for removing unauthorized encampments and personal property. Advanced notices are mandated, affording individuals only a 48-hour window to address concerns or objections. Law enforcement or designated city personnel may then proceed with the removal, ensuring proper storage and notification.

Penalties for violations are clearly outlined, constituting misdemeanors with potential fines of up to $1,000 or confinement not exceeding 90 days. However, enforcement is uniquely tethered to the availability of overnight shelter spaces. If such shelters are not accessible, the criminal provisions are temporarily suspended.

The legislation categorically identifies prohibited areas for camping and storing personal property, ranging from rights-of-way and parks to parking lots and stormwater drainage facilities. These restricted areas include the real estate property containing City Hall, the Deer Park Maintenance Shop, the City Wastewater Treatment Lagoons, the City Airport, Perrins Field, Swinyard Park, the City Baseball Fields, Mix Park, Country Club Park, Arcadia Park, Erickson Arboretum, Deer Park Golf Course, Shamrock Glen Park, and Deer Park Meadows Park. This revised ordinance, officially known as Ordinance No. 2023-1020, was added to Chapter 9.16 of the Deer Park Municipal Code.

The ordinance is set to take effect five days after its official publication. The ordinance’s impact on the community, particularly regarding legal restrictions and constitutional rights, is a complex challenge.

To take a look at the ordinance as it was presented in the November 15th Agenda, please go to this link: Ordinance No. 2023-1020

Sources:

  • “11/15/23 Council Agenda.” Deer Park City Hall, Washington, 15 November 2023, DPGazette.com/3p92y. Accessed 5 December 2023.
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