EVERETT— After weeks of passionate discussion, the Everett City Council has approved a law that will criminalize sitting or lying on streets and sidewalks in a 10-block area east of Broadway near downtown.
The council passed the “no-sit, no-lie” ordinance by a 5-1 vote Wednesday night. Enforcement will not begin until alternative housing is available at a “pallet shelter” village approved by the council last month.
The no-sit, no-lie boundary will stretch from 41st Street to Pacific Avenue near I-5, including Everett Station and the Everett Gospel Mission. Dozens of people live on the sidewalks and in alleys adjacent to Smith Avenue, an area business owners and officials said has borne the brunt of Everett’s homelessness crisis.
The ordinance also requires a permit from the city to provide food, goods, supplies or services in the zone.
Councilmember Scott Bader suggested the amendment to the pallet project last month. On Wednesday, he said the city of Everett does more than other localities to help the homeless, but this assistance cannot hamper the lives and work environments for others.
“In response to putting the pallet shelters there, and the Smith street community being willing to again accept more homeless residences, I just believe the discreet no-sit, no-lie area seems appropriate to accomplish balance,” Bader said.
Councilmember Liz Vogeli was the lone vote in opposition. She also objected to the no-sit, no-lie amendment when Bader proposed the addition. Councilmember Jeff Moore was absent from the meeting.
“Arson is a crime, property damage is a crime,” Vogeli said addressing business owners concerns. “… I don’t think sitting and lying down is a crime, nor do I think that it is a good idea to create it as a crime.”
About 20 miniature homes proposed for a vacant lot behind the Everett Gospel Mission hinged on the approval of the no-sit, no-lie ordinance. The dwellings are expected to help people who have found traditional shelters incompatible with their transition from the streets to more permanent housing.
A state grant and tax dollars will fund the housing that is expected to cost more than $1 million to build and operate.
“There is no perfect solution to addressing homelessness in our community, but every incremental step can make a difference,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said in a statement after the vote. “Tonight’s action allows us to move forward with an opportunity we have right now — one which will provide new stability, support and shelter to up to 30 more people.”
The timeline for pallet shelters is unclear. The project’s prospective operator, the Everett Gospel Mission, still needs to reach an agreement with the city on how that program would be run and get permits before the site can be prepared.
A goal has been set by the city to have the shelters running by June.
About 20 people spoke Wednesday during more than an hour of public comment before the vote. Discussion was split between activists speaking on behalf of the homeless and merchants exhausted by years of friction.
“As someone who has lived my entire life in the city, I have continued to watch the city push the homeless folks, as well as look past them and look down on them,” Taylor Stefanski said during the meeting. “Passing this ordinance will only displace this community more and to somewhere else, not solving the issue at hand.”
Business owners described the challenges of running an operation near Smith Avenue.
“I support the no-sit, no-lie because I need some kind of indication from the city that they will not just let us all fail down here,” said Jennifer Cross, owner of The Dog Spot on Smith Avenue. “As they grapple with the best ways to help the homeless population, they remember that we have needs and rights, too.”
In separate letters prior to the vote, the American Civil Liberties Union and National Homelessness Law Center urged the city to reconsider the ordinance, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban of cruel and unusual punishment.
Officials have said the city spends more than $100,000 a year to clean the streets near Smith Avenue and 37th Street.
“The fact is, the problems in the Smith street area have only gotten worse, and in my opinion, they’ve gotten a lot worse,” Councilmember Scott Murphy said. “I believe we have to take more aggressive actions.”
In recent years, federal courts have ruled that governments cannot enforce laws that ban homeless people from sleeping or camping on public property in cities where those folks do not have an alternative place to go, like a shelter or sanctioned encampments.
A U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the case Martin v. City of Boise mentions that enforcing a no-sit, no-lie ordinance may be legal if the rule has a limited scope of time or place.
City leadership believes the boundary described in the ordinance would be small enough to stand up to future legal challenges.
“You can never tell what a court will do, but we’ve done everything we can to make sure it is constitutional,” City Attorney David Hall told the council.
After Wednesday’s vote, Penelope Protheroe, a vocal opponent of the ordinance and leader of the non=profit Angel Resource Connection, told The Daily Herald the action further stigmatizes Everett’s homeless population.
“I consider it like a trap zone for people who go and get meals twice-a-day” from the mission, she said. “It’s like, ‘Here is your food, come and get it. I know you’re hungry, but you can’t sit down or take a load off.’”
Protheroe said her group will seek a permit from the city to continue providing services, including helping the homeless access stimulus checks and assisting in the transition to permanent housing.
“We are going to do what we’ve always done,” she said.
People would not be cited under the ordinance unless they continue to violate the rule after being notified by law enforcement. Violators would face misdemeanor charges that could result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $500.
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.