Lawmakers seek to regulate homeless camps on church property

By Emma Scher

WNPA Olympia Bureau

Cities like Lynnwood, Kirkland, Bothell, Seattle and Sammamish have municipal codes regulating temporary homeless encampments.

State Senate Bill 5644 would create uniform guidelines for 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 a city to regulate encampments and, in some cases, conflicts with ordinances city councils already established.

The Rev. 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 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 was proposed on the House and executive sessions were held, but no action was taken. SB 5644 has not yet been scheduled for an executive session.