Reader view: Having authorized the ‘stick’ on homeless camping, council must now provide the ‘carrot’

The homeless anti-camping ordinance, passed by the Edmonds City Council on May 17, is now law. The new statute allows the police to ticket or arrest anyone occupying a public space if they refuse the offer of a shelter referral. The catch, of course, is that there are few viable shelter options in the area, and none in Edmonds. A situation that will only grow more challenging in the cold and rainy months to come when competition for shelter will be higher and beds harder to find. Without shelter options the new law, as enacted, is effectively useless.

The council, having passed the “stick” half of the ordinance, must now address the much more difficult “carrot” piece. The council must not consider their work complete on this issue until adequate shelter for those who need it exists. Planning and discussion of these goals must not be tabled, derailed by other business at hand, or simply forgotten. Here is one suggestion for beginning the conversation.

Some have mentioned a “regional response” to homelessness in South Snohomish County. That would involve coordinating efforts between our surrounding local municipalities to provide shelter and specialized services to those in need. Such efforts would involve cost sharing and taking the burden off individual municipalities, like Edmonds, who currently have no shelter options and few social services.

Such a model might involve creating a multi-site shelter system throughout the south county, in facilities that also function as “day centers” where people can go to do laundry and shower, perhaps even store belongings, and receive support from a professional staff able to coordinate referrals and transportation for medical and mental health care, addiction treatment, and stable supported housing. 

The epidemic of homelessness in our country is a concern and a responsibility that belongs to all of us as Americans, and it is likely going to get a lot worse before it gets better. We know from our own experience that the “bus ticket out of town” tradition or jailing people for vagrancy or “camping” resolves nothing. It just kicks the can down the road, leaving someone else, or another community, to pick up the responsibility. It does nothing to alleviate human suffering or restore human dignity.

In considering a regional response we must realize that there will likely never be one model, or approach, that works for everyone. Rather, we should plan for, and implement, a model that might work for our own area, test it, and learn from our own efforts as we watch what other communities are doing. 

This would be an excellent starting point for our own City Council, reaching out to surrounding South Snohomish localities to share and discuss ideas and experiences, and  working together toward establishing a shared and effective response to the crisis of homelessness in our area. 

— By Ed Lorah, Edmonds

17 Replies to “Reader view: Having authorized the ‘stick’ on homeless camping, council must now provide the ‘carrot’”

  1. Questions re funding: The Snohomish sales tax increase was enacted to provide for homeless. What is that money being used for at this point? Is that money being used to house people in the County? Also the COVID funds received by the City from the federal government (taxpayers) is an option for addressing the issue. A regional approach may be an option, but does it make sense? For example, if Lynnwood does not pass an ordinance to allow the police to address vagrants and their homeless problem increases, should Edmonds pay for that. But then there are questions that need answers: How are we going to try to correct the homeless problem. Housing and assistance for those that want to get off drugs, the mentally-ill, and those that want to become part of society are categories that deserve help. Throwing money at those that do not want to change their life style, that want to continue on drugs and choose the lifestyle of being homeless or simply don’t want to work for a living? Well, they are making that life choice and no amount of money will change that.

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  2. Thank you, Ed, for articulating the sad fact that there are few supports in the area for people in need. The hygiene center on 164th provides services similar to a day center and is much appreciated for providing showers, clothing and food. It has created a small, welcoming community where no one is judged or turned away. It’s a beginning…

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  3. Mr. Lorah, nowhere in your opinion did I see any mention of responsibility or accountability on the part of the ( so called ) homeless. Or if your compassion would be limited to actual residents of Edmonds or to anyone who “shows up” for shelter and freebies while drug addled or deranged. The only thing one needs to learn is “if you build it, they will come”. This is demonstrated in bold relief and sickening technicolor just down the road in Seattle where they have been doing precisely what you suggest for the past several decades and billions of dollars. Your plan, as in Seattle, would create an industry that solves nothing, makes things worse, wastes ever more of tax payer money, and destroys the community’s quality of life. The best way to prevent a Seattle like scenario in Edmonds is to discourage those who made bad life decisions from coming here at all.

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  4. I just read data from a city study FAQ that Edmonds geographic area has about 15 known un-housed “residents” and there has not been a large influx of “residents” from outside areas.

    I agree with Mr. Lorah’s ideas about the need for a regional multi sponsor (public and private) housing and help center but do not concur that we have established a “stick” in Edmonds without considering the “carrot.” That is left wing political propaganda.

    If you read the new ordinance carefully you will see that great pains have been taken to make this non punitive except as the very last resort and economic protection has even been built into avoid that for anyone arrested.

    Edmonds is a generous town full of good generous people who have been trying to help “the poor” among us for years. End the political posturing please.

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  5. Thanks to Ed, Cynthia and Helen for the additional information and focus on this topic. Tonight the council will revisit the ARPA Federal Aid received for Pandemic support that had approved it to be spent as follows back in 2021 prior to the Council elections that changed the balance of the Council.
    Could these funds be re-distributed based on Edmonds’ evolving priorities?
    Here is the current status of the remaining $8.8 Million ARPA funds (My Edmonds News, May 22,2022): https://dpa730eaqha29.cloudfront.net/myedmondsnews/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Screen-Shot-2022-05-22-at-4.05.19-PM.png

    Of the original $11.9 million in funds, $4.8 million or nearly 42% was allocated to “Green Infrastructure” projects and none of that has been spent. Only $600,000 was allocated toward Job Training. I know CM Buckshnis tried very hard to push for more funds toward Job Training.
    What was the outcome of the $600,000 spent toward Job Training? Was it successful? Should we allocate more and could this support in the prevention of homelessness?
    Wherever possible, the use of these funds should be reconsidered as needs are reassessed. These funds could play an integral part in the need for shelter and services for the homeless in our city
    and even more-so, in the prevention.
    The Green Infrastructure bucket is vague to me. Let’s ask the Council to really dig in here and prioritize. In my opinion there are environmental impacts to homelessness and I see the prevention of homeless encampments as an environmental issue but I’m not clear if re-budgeting the ARPA funds is an option.

    For more info on the Ordinance and how Edmonds currently supports those on the brink of or in a homeless state, see the attached link to Edmonds City site: https://www.edmondswa.gov/government/departments/police_department/unlawful_use_of_public_space_-_f_a_qs

    The groundwork exists so let’s build on it and keep sharing ideas! Edmonds is a great place with great people who care.
    Call in, email, or go to the meeting to share your thoughts with the City Council and the Mayor on this topic at tonight’s meeting.

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  6. History

    I remember a movie released in 2009, The Soloist, based on a true story. A journalist, Steven M. Lopez, attempted to house a musician from Julliard, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr. who had schizophrenia. The indoor accommodation upset Mr. Ayers and he refused it; he felt safe and free outside in the elements. There is also a book, newspaper articles and a feature on 60 minutes.

    As is true in the vast majority of these cases, the people experiencing homelessness are in chronic stress, and more at risk of being harmed than the population that is not homeless. Many experiencing homelessness do not want to go into shelters as they are more in fear of losing what they have left in possessions. They are also too aware of the different threats and do not want to be “locked in” with this highly diverse population.

    Reflecting on past centuries repeating themselves, with wars, democracy under threat, suffrage movements, catastrophic illnesses, food shortages, recessions, and mass homelessness… another “Hooverville” isn’t unimaginable.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if lawsuits occur for arresting people who do not accept shelter.

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth, all should read what is on the link! Then we can build from that set of facts.

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  7. Good intentions are motivated by goodwill. Then there is the process of financing and budget. I am not a social scientist, but building structure, or adapting property to provide shelter for homelessness is not as simple as a hop, skip, jump.

    Six or more years ago, there were all kinds of concerned citizens in Seattle, and then the city council was often consumed with more rhetoric about rights and who would be in charge with homelessness. Depending upon bias the city council was not able to address the disruption at the meetings.
    It is good to have a process that is prepared to some degree and has a defined budget to invest in solutions. Conclusions will likely be derived by majority vote and the budget available. There are no magic wands.

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  8. The Office of Community and Homeless Services offers programs, funding, etc. for Snohomish County.

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  9. Once again, actually read the ordinance and stop the “stick” nonsense. The ordinance is about public safety and sanitary conditions in public places, not homelessness. It’s about everyone’s safety including “our most vulnerable residents.” (This term apparently includes anyone who’s ever had a raw deal, mental illness, or lack of sobriety, and any “resident ” who has ever crossed the Edmonds city line. Since L.J. can’t or won’t explain her tongue lashing comment about her fellow CMs, I guess we will never know the parameters of her term. )

    Please explain how letting people wallow in filth, self pity, and self medication is helping them. Please explain how you allow some people to sleep and camp in the park without allowing everyone to do so in a free society. It’s either free range or it isn’t; Seems to me. Fences were invented for a reason and citizenship requires following some rules. Being a “resident” usually requires having some sort of “residence” with an actual address. Let’s help people achieve those things instead of treating them like children and letting them do whatever they want. They will thank us for this if we give it a try.

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  10. Thank you for this comment. This policy, which literally does criminalize homelessness in Edmonds by creating legal ramifications for those who won’t relocate their homelessness out of site (and city limits, effectively, given no available shleters)) of Edmonds people, tells you everything you need to know about who this is as a community. The people who experience homelessness, for the most part, have clinical mental health issues – which are medical issues. Would we abandon our neighbors with Parkinsons disease, or cancer, or Down Syndrome, just because we don’t want to see them in our back yard? There’s a moral issue here, and the Edmonds city council (and those of you who elect them), need to look in the mirror and ask yourselves who you really are. I live in Lynnwood, about two blocks from the border of the Edmonds Country Club (i.e. Edmonds city limits) and right by a city park. The “homeless”, as many call them in dehumanizing ways, are people. And they are welcome in my back yard – even if they are no longer welcome in yours.

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    1. Last I checked folks with Parkinson’s disease, cancer and Down Syndrome aren’t breaking into cars and defecating on the sidewalk.

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    2. Greg, thanks for making my points. You obviously haven’t read the actual ordinance nor do you understand it I suspect. I strongly agree with you that much of so called homelessness should be dealt with in the social work and medical arenas rather than the courts. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to help people that don’t want help. The question is what does society do when their self destructive behavior causes issues for everyone in the society. Opinions vary on this. I respect your opinion even if I don’t agree totally.

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    3. Speak softly and carry a big stick. I really don’t think we should be offering carrots. We can offer help to those that want it and those that don’t should not be enabled/carrots to remain unaccountable for their actions. What many of these people need is not short term shelter but mid term institutional help. Save the carrots for when they are ready to rejoin society.

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  11. When the state shifted the sales tax rules back in the early 2000’s the sales tax we charged our customers was based on the edmonds sales tax rate and the sales tax went to Edmonds. After the state changed the rules, the sales tax we charged our customers was based on where our customers were located. In other words, the majority of the sales tax revenue we charged went to Seattle and Bellevue. This sent more money to the biggest cities in the state and took money from the smallest cities in the state (like Edmonds). Our city was forced to depend on property tax revenue at that time. My point with what I am saying is the state of washington at that point in time placed the bigger cities in our state into a better position financially to provide services for the homeless. If we are being honest with the situation that is still the case today. Before citizens start demanding that we provide housing and shelter to the homeless at Francis Anderson, as an example (which I have heard was being looked at) please look at the financial differences between our city and the city of Seattle or, even, Everett. It would be incredibly irresponsible for our city to act and to deal with homelessness in the same way the city of Seattle does. We just don’t have the resources. We need to depend on the non profits we do have in our city to assist people in need and focus on what we can do responsibly. We are a bedroom community dependent on property taxes to support half of our revenue in the city. Based on the price increase in housing recently our city will become more dependent on property taxes in the future. We can help people in need and be responsible at the same time. We should not be using our citizens property tax revenues to build homeless shelters. Adopting that model would not be sustainable for our community. Please volunteer or help a local non profit instead.

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  12. Greg, are you really comparing homelessness that most of these people have chosen to live this lifestyle…to cancer or Parkinson’s Disease? Of the latter we are either born with and do not chose to have these major illnesses. Are we, the people in Edmonds, suppose to feel bad about ourselves because we may be able to send a homeless addict to a rehab? Tough love works…ask the Alcoholics Anonymous …or other successful organizations.

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