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What Exactly is Auburn’s New Camping Ordinance?

Auburn City Council members passed Ordinance 6817 (full ordinance text) at the regularly scheduled April 19 City Council Meeting, which prohibits camping on public city property.

The ordinance, which generally affects Auburn’s homeless encampment population, was previously brought to council in September 2020. The version of the ordinance passed after an amendment changed the proposed citation to an infraction (trespass ticket). 

Previously a trespass ticket would be issued to those camping on city property who refused to leave. Under the new ordinance “any person refusing to comply with such an order or returning to the park on the same calendar day as such an order is subject to prosecution for criminal trespass,” which requires a court appearance. 

The council vote was split 4-3. Deputy Mayor Claude DaCorsi, CM Bob Baggett, CM James Jeyaraj, and CM Yolanda Trout-Manuel voted in favor of the ordinance. CM Larry Brown, CM Roby Mulenga, and CM Chris Stearns opposed it.

An Ordinance normally goes into effect immediately. The changes Ordinance 6817 outlines will take effect once the city’s community court begins. The court is expected to start hearing cases at the end of May.

Q&A on Ordinance No. 6817

Why issue a citation instead of a ticket (civil infraction)?

Tickets with a monetary penalty generally are not a deterrent when issued to homeless individuals as they can’t afford and so will not pay it. When tickets are not paid it can lead to additional fees and impact an individual’s credit. Often tickets will go to debt collections, hindering the ability to get a job or housing.

A court can “only impose the infraction’s monetary penalty—they cannot order cited persons to utilize needed community services designed to alleviate the underlying causes of homeless behavior,” states the ordinance.

Additionally, civil infraction offenses can not be referred to Community Court.

When will citations be issued?

First, it will be determined if there’s availability in a local shelter that is “accessible to the person by public transportation or vehicle for hire at no cost for that person,” states the ordinance.  If there is available shelter and transportation, and the individual refuses to leave the encampment or accept help, they can be issued a citation.

“The majority of people, when they’re confronted and we say okay we have shelter for you and they don’t wanna go, most people in 48 [hours], they move somewhere else. Or they go inside,” Kent Hay, Auburn’s Outreach Program Administrator said. 

What is the punishment for a trespass citation?

The maximum possible sentence for an individual with a trespass citation is a $1,000 fine and/or 90 days in jail. Auburn Senior City Staff Attorney Harry Boesche told city councilmembers that he could not recall a time in his career of seeing an individual receive a full 90-day sentence for trespassing.

“Where you end up seeing most of the jail time spent is due to repeat failing to appear, and to follow up with the court,” Boesche said.  

Where will the city look when finding shelter space for individuals?

The Sundown Shelter in Auburn will be the first place that is checked for adults and the YMCA Social Impact Center will be contacted for youth and young adults. If there is no space available in Auburn, shelters in King and Pierce County will be checked.

“While the city has its own shelter, we also pay into shelter services outside of the city.  We need to help get folks to the right shelter,” Director of Community Development Jeff Tate said.  “Some folks have kids, some have pets, some are disabled.  Not every shelter can serve every person so we need to find the right shelter for the individual.” 

a stuffed animal lays in the mud surrounded by trash and debris
Source: City of Auburn

If someone goes to a shelter, what will happen to the belongings they’re unable to bring with them?

Tate states the city already ensures items, including full shopping carts, are able to be stored.

What happens if there are no more shelter spaces available?

If there is no shelter space available, people are allowed to remain until a shelter is found for them. 

Does being issued a citation mean jail time?

Not necessarily. An Auburn community court will be opened this month in Auburn. Community court is a diversion court that can drop charges, voiding them from records if cited individuals agree to improve their situation by accessing help.  Those that agree will have weekly contact with each person who agrees to participate in the program.

Accessing help, explains Tate, means using the services “located on site at the same physical location as the court and will operate on the same day.”

The Ray of Hope Resource Center will have services that include addiction counseling, mental health services, and general assistance for things such as acquiring a license.

“The judge says, for example: “I’ll eliminate the charge so that it will never appear on your record if you go next door and enroll in treatment.” If the individual enrolls in treatment, the judge drops charges,” Tate said.

Note: Jail and prison are commonly, but incorrectly, used interchangeably. Jail is for temporary holding and sentences less than 365 days. Prison is for felony charges and all sentences beyond one year. Prison time is not possible under this ordinance.

Will jail time be a last or first resort to trespassers?

Jail time will be the last resort because this ordinance focuses on service first.  “If they accept service and they want help, there’s no reason to ever talk about trespass authority. There’s no reason for it. And I think, more than 90% of the time, that’s gonna be the scenario that we’re working with,” Tate said. 

What happens if a trespasser doesn’t follow through on accessing services agreed upon in Community Court?

If an individual refuses to participate any longer, they will be redirected back to the traditional court and will not have the benefits of a dropped charge or removal of charge from personal records. 

Many homeless individuals have untreated or undertreated mental and behavioral health issues. How will the city handle individuals who do not understand what is being asked of them?

That’s why we have Kent and need to handhold the hands of vulnerable adults,” Tate said. “These folks will not make it out of homelessness, drug addiction, mental health affliction on their own.  That is why we need to lead with service offerings and not punishment.  Leaving them in this location to figure it out on their own will fail.” 

Will the City of Auburn be doing homeless encampment sweeps?

For an encampment sweep to occur in Auburn it would require the encampment to be located and for services to be repeatedly offered to and refused by those within the encampment. “[We’re] probably not going to encounter this situation where the entire encampment is unified in their refusal of services.  But if it did happen, there is a possibility that we would initiate some kind of sweep,” said Tate.

“APD doesn’t conduct sweeps,” Auburn Police Chief Dan O’Neil said. “If APD is involved when an encampment is cleaned-up, it is for a community caretaking role.”   

What assurances are there that police will not abuse this new ordinance to abuse or harass the homeless?

A primary function of law enforcement and the Auburn Police is to help those in need. Being homeless is not a crime and we will continue focusing our efforts on helping those in need find services,” O’Neil said.

“We have and will continue to partner closely with Kent Hay in performing this important work and connecting individuals with needed services. I am confident that with the resources and services available, we will seldomly be asked to enforce the ordinance.”

Auburn’s legal department will be providing training by the end of May to APD officers regarding the new Auburn City Code.

Do other cities have similar ordinances?

Yes. Redmond has a similar ordinance that was adopted in 2015 and updated in 2018. Redmond has filed charges 12 times since the 2018 update to the city’s municipal code. 

Do you still have questions about Ordinance No. 6817 or anything else? Shoot us an email and we’ll do the work for you to find the answers: contact@auburnexaminer.com.


Sources:

To write this article, the Auburn Examiner reviewed the April 12 City Council Study Session, the April 19 City Council Meeting, and May 13th Auburn Town Hall, spoke with Director Jeff Tate and Chief Dan O’Neil, and read the City of Redmond ordinance.

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2 Comments

  1. Don Farmer Don Farmer June 6, 2021

    You are unaware of the situation at the sundown shelter and ray of hope. I have first hand knowledge.

    • auburnexaminer auburnexaminer June 7, 2021

      Hi Don,
      Feel free to emnail us with any information you would like for us to know or any situations you would like for us to look into further: contact@auburnexaminer.com.

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