Reader view: Compassionate enforcement aims to save lives

Will Chen

Like many of our community members, I was shocked, dismayed and disappointed when the City of Edmonds administration, human services and police department introduced the first version of the proposed ordinance adding a new chapter, Chapter 5.70, entitled “Unlawful Occupation of Public Property” to the City Code — that aims to fine the unhoused people occupying public property overnight with up to $1,000 and 90 days imprisonment. Since the proposed ordinance’s first introduction on April 26, 2022, the Edmonds City Council and city administration have been working hard to refine this ordinance to incorporate the following provisions:

– The enforcement of this ordinance is suspended against those experiencing homelessness if overnight shelter is not available.

– Documentation and implementation. The implementation of this ordinance shall be applied to any individuals who occupy public property illegally. The offer of assistance, including food and available shelter, shall be documented.

– Available overnight shelter must be located within a 35-mile radius with the starting point of Edmonds City Hall, and to which the city facilitates transport.

This new law will be the embodiment of compassion, whose chief purpose is to provide an opportunity for the unhoused. This will not only give them temporary shelter but also put them in contact with members of Edmonds human services that will help the unhoused to connect with other much-needed community services that may include treatment. And it will help on the road to recovery those individuals who are suffering the terrible effects of mental illness and drug addiction.

Per the Edmonds human services deputy director, when given the option to be provided with temporary housing, most individuals are glad to take up the offer and get off the streets.

According to this article from Snohomish Tribune reporter Michael Whitney, 53 individuals died homeless on the streets in 2020 in Snohomish County, and tragically the number grew to 64 in 2021.  Simply leaving the homeless people on the street is not a responsible way to treat the unhoused individuals; they are someone’s family members, friends.

This ordinance, a compassionate enforcement tool, will act as an incentive for the unhoused to accept much-needed help. It is aimed to help save lives. It is also a reminder that our community should continue to invest in the homeless response fund, create affordable permanent housing, build temporary transitional housing such as Pallet Shelters, invest in related wrap-around services and leverage the regional resources to help the unhoused in our community.

— By Will Chen, Edmonds City Council


25 Replies to “Reader view: Compassionate enforcement aims to save lives”

  1. I appreciate CM Chen writing in, but I am really confused about what his goal is here. I feel as though he is afraid to come out and say he is for this ordinance passing due to the risk of being delabeled as a progressive, so has to make excuses. I don’t think what he is describing actually is true – I think most people reside in the middle of the bell curve and understand there are ways to enforce laws and provide safety without criminalizing homelessness. That was true with the first draft he is criticizing. He then goes on to characterize those who are most affected by the passage (EPD and human services department) as the uncaring homeless haters. What a pile of garbage. Stop getting in the way of this, stop make excuses, and vote. This letter bothers me so much as someone who voted for Will.


  2. Dear Council Member Chen-

    While I appreciate the work the Council may have done to transform an ill-conceived and punitive measure into “the embodiment of compassion”, I still do not see how the new, improved version is any different than its predecessor.

    You write of the new proposal, “This will not only give them (the unhoused) temporary shelter but also put them in contact with members of Edmonds human services that will help the unhoused to connect with other much-needed community services that may include treatment”.

    I think we are in agreement that Edmonds has scant shelter for unhoused people. There are very likely few options for people needing to be referred on short notice. Sending someone to a shelter 35 miles away is, even if logistically possible, just sweeping them along and removing them from our view. Human Services will tell you that it’s pretty difficult to follow up with someone who has been relocated to Everett or South Seattle. But perhaps that’s the intention.

    I worked in Seattle’s Pioneer Square with homeless mentally ill for a half dozen years, and I was provided all the resources I needed to house people, get them into mental health treatment, and help them get financial assistance. Without support and resources, social service workers face a near impossible task. And it should not be the role of the police to be de facto social workers.

    If the Edmonds City Council does not authorize the creation of permanent housing and emergency shelter space, and fails to provide its small human services team with adequate resources and the tools they need to do their jobs, our compassionate intentions will fail to become meaningful actions.

    By punishing our fellow citizens instead of coordinating efforts to help them, The City Council has gotten it backwards. By pursuing this ordinance while ignoring the absolute lack of adequate social supports we are just chasing our tails.


    1. Using Mr. Lorah’s reasoning, it is the Edmonds City Councils job to provide essentially free housing to anyone on earth who passes thru Edmonds and says they need and deserve free housing. In other words the Seattle City Council’s approach to the subject. I guess the theory is that those fat cat undeserving mostly white people living in nice homes in Edmonds are duty bound to support the poor, regardless of how and why they are poor. What a complete load of crap. Where is my free housing and mental health care? Oh that’s right, it’s my obligation to provide it to others because I’m so lucky.

      In the past I’ve worked with the poor and homeless myself and I know many of their problems are self induced and, in significant numbers, a self chosen form of existence. Most of those people asking for money at our intersections don’t want it for food and housing and they know how to use people who do need the money for that to get what they want for their own habits. That said I know that some homelessness and poverty is caused by an unfair economic system, domestic violence and mental illness. My point is that it is the city council’s job thru the police to see that our parks and public spaces are safe and sanitary and that should be it from their point of view.

      I did not vote for Will Chen. His take on this matter is exactly why I did not vote for him.

      This has not been a punitive measure from the get go. I do not appreciate the Coalition for the Homeless and our uber Progressive Council Members and Mayor portraying this ordinance as something it isn’t . People like WIll Chen, Laura Johnson, Susan Paine and Mike Nelson are giving my former good Democratic Party a bad name and people like them will probably make sure the even worse uber Conservatives take over nationally next year. Crazy just begets more crazy.


  3. I am hopeful that the Edmonds City Council will approve this ordinance. It is just common sense to protect our public spaces and at the same time provide services to persons that need services. We have many examples in the region that demonstrate failed systems that allow public spaces to be taken over by the unhoused, so I am encouraged that this community has learned from those failures. Yes, protect our public spaces and give our police and social workers the tools they need to provide assistance. Thank you City Council members that are working to pass this ordinance.


  4. Will,
    Jibber jabber. You proposal is not any different then any other liberal city leader. You address neither mental illness or drug abuse in it. You like many other city leaders think this is an issue of homelessness. We the citizens hear this garbage over and over again.
    You can act compassionate but you aren’t dealing with the issue. At least a 90 days imprisonment would get the drug user sober. That is the only item I see addressing a possible issue.
    Your solution is to kick the can down the road and that clearly is not working. The cans in your neighborhood were kicked there from down the road.


  5. Mr. Chen,
    With all due respect, if you build it, they will come. Then Edmonds will take on all of the horrific trappings of Seattle and other regional cities being overrun with drug addicts, bums and criminals.


    1. Frankly I don’t see how you could be more compassionate and still be able to protect and preserve our community.. talk of pushing our problems onto others who says the people we find here are not from elsewhere? 4 outcomes 1 nothing because no shelter is available.2 shelter is offered and accepted. 3 shelter is offered and refused and the person decides to move along. 4 shelter is offered refused and refuses to move along and get arrested. Hence the last resort tool.


  6. Thanks Will for sharing this. It’s a tough issue without any great answers, but this approach seems sound. I appreciate the Councils efforts at working through this issue and representing us all.


  7. Explain how placing a $1,000.00 for not having a home is beneficial? I noticed under City of Edmonds signs. It states no loitering. Edmonds, are you saying, do not come to any of our events, stay out of our city? If “we” find you laying on the lawn, standing or sitting longer then we think you should. Edmonds could lock me up? Hmm. I will tell my friends to avoid Edmonds and take our tourist dollars elsewhere. Summer is coming. Thanks for the heads up!!


  8. I wish the City Council would save their opinions for the open public council meetings. It is also concerning that facts are presented after public comments and cannot be responded to by the public.

    Take a look at tomorrow’s meeting agendas and new rules. At the special meeting public comment is limited to one subject. Regular meeting public comments may be limited to less than 3 minutes.

    The Mayor and City Council don’t appreciate open and transparent government.


    1. Finis, I’m not sure what’s more “open” than a free press. I for one applaud any elected official who makes their views known regardless of format. It helps informs us all. And quite frankly, we need more of this sort of transparency. Mr. Mayor, are you listening?

      In this case, thank you Councilmember Chen for supporting this ordinance. While nothing may be perfect, it’s certainly better than nothing at all. With the support of our Police Chief and Human Services Director, this piece of legislation will go a long way to protecting the public and our public spaces as well as ensuring those who need help can get it. I hope the rest of the Council follows Mr. Chen and votes in favor of this ordinance.


    2. Finis, the audience comment during the special meeting is limited to one subject (job order contract awards) because it is the only (non-executive session) item on the agenda in the special meeting. That agenda item is there because it is both time critical and important. Audience comment during the regular meeting will be after the council action on this special meeting item which is why I added a comment period, specific to this item only, during the Special Meeting (before action is taken on it).

      There haven’t been comments any of the several times the job order contracts have been on the agenda so I am not really expecting any today either, but members of the public will have that opportunity to speak to it if desired.

      The public hearing on the Transportation Improvement Plan has a 3 minute comment opportunity separate from the audience comment time.

      With these TWO item specific comment opportunities IN ADDITION TO the audience comment period (which we indicated may be shortened to two minutes per speaker if volume of commenters is high per my request), it is hard to argue disinterest by your electeds in hearing from the public. Especially when you consider that this week’s high interest item has been on the agenda three times before and that an incredibly high volume of (helpful, quality) comment has already been received in emails and comment threads and by voice. As someone who has listened to and read them all, I attest that we are not getting new content on this subject anymore. Anything new will fit in two minutes.

      In addition to being heard, the public also wants us to act, and some time needs to be made available for that.


  9. I was not “shocked, dismayed and disappointed ” by the City Attorney’s first draft of this ordinance. Instead, I was happy, delighted and encouraged that the City Council would entertain passing such a modest first step at preventing Edmonds from becoming yet another garbage pit like Seattle. If Council member Chen is happy with a more watered-down version of the ordinance, then fine; vote for it. Mr. Chen: please exhibit some compassion for the hard-working tax paying citizens of Edmonds who want clean, safe useable parks and public spaces. Spare me from your self-congratulations. Existing Trespass laws prevent people with homes from camping on public property. This ordinance is necessary because the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Boise case said you cannot arrest the homeless for sleeping on public property unless there is available shelter.


  10. The ordinance is just fine with or without the Chen amendment which is just a ploy for him to stay in the good graces of his more liberal pals on the council and “in” as an up and comer with the Democratic Party. He sought Dem. Party endorsement as you may recall.

    Some elected city officials portraying Edmonds citizens as a bunch of homeless and poor hating “meanies”, by misrepresenting this proposed ordinance as “criminalizing the poor,” is a disgrace on them and no real reflection on those of us who want Edmonds to remain livable and safe for everyone. As Darrol Haug has pointed out, our courts are pretty compassionate and any fines or public service levied will be subject to the courts looking at individual cases and ruling as is appropriate to the individuals involved. More people will get real help from this ordinance than the failed liberal policies of just letting people do whatever they want in public spaces.


  11. The City Council’s job is to represent the best interest of the citizens of Edmonds. Sometimes that means making a decision that speaks for the majority and may upset the minority. I believe the Council’s actions should preserve public spaces for the majority of tax-paying citizens.

    It is also worth noting that according to the Police Chief, this type of interaction has occured only two times in more than a year. Also, while true that Edmonds doesn’t have designated shelters, it can and does provide vouchers for hotel stays.


  12. Dear council member Chen; to progressives: You are perpetuating “anti homelessness” by “criminalizing the act of being unhoused”. To the rest of us, you refuse to even acknowledge the root cause of homelessness: Mental illness and drug addiction. No amount of shelters, social services, or free housing will fix this root cause. This is something that has to be fixed at a state or federal level. We understand that you are not in a position to change the way our federal and state government treat drug addiction and mental illness, but your refusal to acknowledge the issue concerns me as someone who voted for you. I understand that there is a balance between Progressivism and Conservatism, and that not everyone fits neatly into those two labels. But to me, this op ed does not present a nuanced middle ground: It presents someone refusing to take a stance.


  13. I’m with Tom, I’m confused! So the new law/ordinance will be suspended to allow overnights if there is no housing available for “unhoused” Well, what if we become inundated with many more on our streets coming from Seattle as Bruce Harrell is cleaning up the parks after much destruction and he has a long way to go. Has city council thought about the magnitude or impact this could create in allowing such. If as you say there have only been a couple of incidents like this in a year where someone refused shelter, then why would you be concerned about a couple of people going to jail to at least get off drugs for 90 days!!! Do you realize how much more this could get out of control. I presume Chen and council discussed that “he” would be the fall guy to put this word out. Providing no consequence when you know the individual is on drugs and that’s why they are refusing to leave, is unconscionable. You need to include in your ordinance that if the individual is in fact on drugs and refusing to leave our streets, parks, beaches, that person should “enter the justice system” like Mercer Island has done. I urge people to look up what Mercer Island has done. They passed the ordinance and it’s working well. Apparently, their council members understand the desire to protect the many over the few. If anyone in this community is harmed by a transient person on drugs, please get a lawyer right away. Sue the City and see if you can sue individual councilmembers. If there is no accountability for those using drugs refusing shelter and they pass that with no consequence then we should move for Laura Johnsons recall. She has manipulated this issue against Edmonds residents. For council to consider the well-being of 400 over 44,000 is off the charts. Council need to separate out the “unhoused” from the drug addicted unhoused and if they don’t, they are criminally complicit to those using drugs in our parks, on our street corners, beaches etc.


    1. This is such a touchy subject. If you don’t write at least 3 paragraphs, and come off as a caring person without diction, Clinton is waiting to jump on you.
      Vivian writes 5 paragraphs, ( happy Clint), but who can fit it into the topic being discussed( I’m not smart I guess).
      Why don’t we build a large center and share the services with Lynnwood, Montlake Terrace, even mulkulteo.
      Hire competent mental health/ drug counselors/ physicians. Form a cutting edge classification system with the supervisors having the clout of a chief of police. To work, tough love can be administered this way.
      This building could house the classified homeless when brought in. The ones that refuse treatment would be put in a protected, confined area. Breakfast at 5, not a lot of sleep because of activities)
      The ones that wanted help, a qualified group could deal with each case individually.
      Both the drug addicted, and the mental health homeless could be transferred to a regional center within days.
      And housed according to classification.
      Take the mental homeless off the streets. Actually help the drug infected… the point of court approved mandatory house internment to give the time needed for drug rehab to work correctly.
      A large chunk of mental homeless can actually do work when medicated correctly,,,,kitchen, cleaning, crafts..etc
      Don’t be so down on American who care…be careful to throw a label on them ….it is not the way to communicate with an important part of America…
      It was the Republicans who let the approval of fentanyl pass on a fasttrack….lots of lobbying, money thrown around.
      The same thing with Oxycontin….fast track with no government guidance…only lobby and donations to grease another drug epidemic. Sad to see a group so blind to the possible effects of their misguided legislation.


      1. Richard, I’m not sure what your bone to pick with me is, but no problem. I totally agree with your over all approach to this issue. A regional or multi city shelter or care center is a great idea.

        What I object to is the meme that we are all criminalizing the homeless and the poor and resorting to criminalizing the homeless before we provide housing for them (which we really have no obligation to do in the first place). I feel sorry for people like Mary Kimball and Lora Johnson, because they have been brainwashed by ultra liberal ideology beyond knowing and understanding the harm they are doing to all of us. I’m tired of it and I’m going to fight back. They are certainly welcome to write back at me and tell me why and how I’m wrong. If they convince me, I will apologize and mend my ways.

        As to your ideas Richard, right on the mark I think. The first thing you learn about dealing with drug or alcohol addicted people is not to enable them, give them money or take on their issues as your own and that’s exactly what the “don’t criminalize them” crowd is doing.


  14. Right on all counts Cynthia. I’m all for honestly fighting poverty and making a perhaps unfair economic system more fair but this so called homeless problem is out of hand and subject to a bunch of lies and propaganda. The idea that people with good homes, food and health care MUST supply all the people without good homes, food and health care those things for free, no questions asked, is just absurd, stupid and enabling. Personally I’m damn tired of absurd, stupid and enabling.


  15. The original ordinance was bad, and this revised version isn’t much better. The fact that this is being discussed before there’s even shelter space in Edmonds, just as we’re building our our human services department in the city, it’s shameful. We need a housing first approach, not a criminal first approach.


  16. Cities have no obligation to give anyone free shelter, food and or health care, let alone have a human services department. These are good things for the city to have and do; but NOT an obligation.

    Cities do have an obligation to assure public sanitation and safety to all citizens, homed or homeless. She’s portraying any of us supporting this ordinance as “criminalizing poverty and homelessness” which is simply a lie and propaganda that she should be ashamed of rather than proud of. These perpetraters of propaganda are nothing but enablers and they need to be called out routinely or we will all continue to be victims of bad social policy; the homed and the homeless.


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