City looks for a legal way to discourage tent cities

While there’s little Port Orchard can do in terms of regulations to prevent the establishment by a private party of a local tent city for the homeless, the city council at least doesn’t appear to be rolling out the welcome mat. And that’s a good start.

During Tuesday night’s work study session, City Attorney Greg Jacoby briefed the council members on the practical application of House Bill 1956, which was passed by the Washington Legislature this year.

Under the provisions of the statute, “If a religious or nonprofit organization chooses to sponsor a tent city on property controlled by the owner, the city must allow it,” Jacoby said. “You can’t come up with a lot of dubious reasons why they can’t obtain a permit.”

A city can only impose such regulations as are necessary to protect the health and safety of its residents — including those living in tents, Jacoby said.

What regulations fit that description hasn’t been established yet, which creates a certain amount of maneuvering room for the council.

One response could be to insist — in the interest of public health — that the tent city host provide showers and restroom facilities rather than sani-cans.

Even better, the council discussed addressing the “safety” component of the equation by requiring the host to perform a background check on each resident of the tent city to make sure there were no sexual predators in the group.

Those are both good ideas. But even more encouraging is the fact that the council seems — without saying as much — to be trying to do everything it can within the limits of the law to make tent cities as impractical as possible.

Ideally, the city council should be able to pass laws making something like this impossible. But if impossible isn’t possible, impactical will just have to do.

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