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Lacey City Council will take another run at camping ban ordinance on Thursday

Life in an RV on a Tacoma street

Felicia Ellerson talks about coping with homelessness as she lives in her RV beside South Tacoma Way.
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Felicia Ellerson talks about coping with homelessness as she lives in her RV beside South Tacoma Way.

Two years ago the Lacey City Council was set to take action on a camping ban ordinance that would prevent people from camping on public property, including living in RVs parked on a city street.

But in the face of some heated criticism that night from those who felt the ordinance targeted the homeless, the council agreed to table it and listen to public testimony on the matter instead.

Now, the City Council, which discussed the camping ban ordinance during a work session last week, will take another run at voting on the ordinance this Thursday.

If the ordinance is approved by the council, it “shall be unlawful for any person to store personal property, including camp facilities (tents, vehicles) and camp paraphernalia” in any park, any street or “any publicly owned parking lot or publicly owned area, improved or unimproved,” according to the ordinance.

Violating the ordinance would be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment not to exceed 90 days, or both, according to city information.

However, if police determine that the person living out of their tent or RV is homeless, the officer will determine if adequate shelter space is available. If all shelter space is full, a citation will not be issued. If shelter space is available, the officer, at his or her discretion, will provide directions to the shelter, or offer one-time transportation to the shelter.

Lacey City Manager Scott Spence said Tuesday the city is increasingly hearing from residents about people camping in public places, and particularly about RVs that have been parked in subdivisions and in the Lacey City Hall parking lot.

“It’s a mechanism to deter this activity associated with public places,” he said about the ordinance.

Camping in urban public places typically is associated with homelessness, and homelessness in Thurston County has become a big, polarizing issue in Lacey, Olympia and Thurston County.

In Olympia, the city opened a homeless mitigation site downtown and was sued by local business owners.

The county, meanwhile, is considering its own mitigation site near Martin Way East and Carpenter Road Northeast, and in Lacey, the planning commission has been working on a step to expand the number of organizations that could host a homeless camp.

The Lacey City Council meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Lacey City Hall, 420 College St. SE.

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