The Tacoma City Council passed a pair of new laws Tuesday regulating where and how people can camp in the city as part of its developing strategy to fight homelessness and lessen the impacts of homelessness on residents and businesses.
Councilman Robert Thoms said the laws help give the city enforcement tools, should help reduce the nuisance of homelessness for residents and business owners in certain areas, and would help the city redirect homeless people to its planned emergency sheltering sites.
“For those who have been dealing with this, citizens or business owners … this provides a remedy,” Thoms said.
One law amends the city’s rules on car camping, cutting back the amount of time people can camp in one spot in their cars from 7 days to 72 hours. The law also requires people to move one mile away after that amount of time to reduce the impact of car camping on certain neighborhoods where it’s prevalent, Councilman Joe Lonergan said. It also comes with escalating fines. The first fine for violating the rules is $50, the second is $100, and three or more would result in a fine of $250.
The law still maintains the city’s ability to tow or impound cars that are parked in the way of traffic, or are found to be discharging human waste. It also allows people to still get car camping permits for up to 14 days for lawful parking adjacent to private property, city staff said.
The council also passed a ban on camping on public property within the city, essentially banning encampments except where they’re specifically allowed. Violations of that law would be a misdemeanor, an assistant city attorney said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“Currently, the Tacoma Municipal Code lacks an immediately identifiable precise prohibition against camping activities on public property here in the city of Tacoma,” Keith Echterling said. “This ordinance proposes to remedy that gap.”
The law allows for recreational activities such as picnicking and taking refuge in the shade, he said, and would expire when the current emergency homelessness declaration expires, on Oct. 9.
A state of emergency related to homelessness was declared by the City Council in May, and the council has called the problem a growing public-health crisis. The city has since enacted a three-pronged approach to combating homelessness that’s currently in its second phase.