Unlawful Use of Public Space - FAQs

Ordinance 4261
Chapter 5.70 “Unlawful Occupation of Public Property”
As Adopted by City Council on May 17, 2022

Does the ordinance criminalize homelessness?
No. The ordinance does not criminalize the state of being homeless.

What does the ordinance criminalize?
The ordinance makes it a criminal misdemeanor for persons to occupy, or store personal property, on public property overnight.

What if an individual is experiencing homelessness and has no place to go?
The ordinance will not be enforced against a person experiencing homelessness if there is no available shelter.

What does it mean to “not enforce” the ordinance?
That means that the person experiencing homelessness will not be cited for the crime, arrested, or taken to jail for occupying public property overnight.

Will a person experiencing homelessness be able to remain on public property if there is no available shelter?
Yes, they will not be cited for occupying public property overnight when no available shelter exists.

What if there is available shelter and it is offered to the person experiencing homelessness?
If the shelter is accepted, then the ordinance will not be enforced against them.

What if shelter is refused?
If available shelter is offered and then refused, the person experiencing homelessness can be cited per the ordinance. From past experiences, however, it is very rare that someone experiencing homelessness will not accept shelter. Even after an initial refusal, human services and the police department can continue to attempt to work with such persons to encourage them to accept shelter.

Is the offering of assistance and shelter required to be documented in any way?
Yes, the ordinance requires that the offer of assistance including food and available shelter be documented.

Does the ordinance apply to any individual who occupies public property overnight?
Yes, but the ordinance will not be enforced against those experiencing homelessness if there is no available shelter.

Does this ordinance apply to private property?
No, it only applies to public property.

What are the penalties associated with the crime?
The crime is a misdemeanor, with a maximum fine of up to $1000 and imprisonment of up to 90 days in jail.

What is a misdemeanor?
It is the lowest level crime for which jail can be imposed against an individual. Gross misdemeanors, on the other hand, shall be punished by imprisonment of up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

What if it is someone’s first offense, is there any leniency?
There is no minimum penalty for the first offense. This means that the Court is not required to impose any monetary penalty or jail time for the first offense.

What if the person who is cited under this ordinance is unable to pay the penalty?
The ordinance makes it clear that before imposing any financial penalty, the court must ask whether the person can pay the fine. If they cannot, the court will impose community service or work crew instead of a monetary fine.

What does “available” shelter mean?
The ordinance defines it to mean an overnight space that is public or private, available at no charge, located within a 35-mile radius with the starting point of Edmonds City Hall and to which the City facilitates transport.

Why did the City impose a 35-mile geographical boundary?
The inclusion of the 35-mile radius brings some objective criteria to further evaluate availability.

What if an individual experiencing homelessness has a job which would make it difficult to accept shelter 35 miles away?
If someone has a job in a particular area, the City would take that into account in making a determination as to whether the shelter is available for that particular person. Having said that, based upon the City’s past experience, those who have refused shelter have not been employed.

Will the City take the particular circumstances of the individual into account when determining “availability?”
Yes, upon implementation, the City will evaluate the needs of a particular person experiencing homelessness before determining whether a shelter space can be considered “available” to that person. Only when available shelter space is offered and refused, would the ordinance be enforced against persons experiencing homelessness.

Does the City have funds allocated for the construction of a hotel respite program in Edmonds?
No, at this time the City has not allocated funds towards a motel respite program. Snohomish County has allocated funds and is in the process of renovating a motel for this purpose. 

Is a hotel respite program a shelter?  
It can be. A motel respite program would provide individual rooms for people and wrap around services for things such as detox, counseling, job training and more.

What if a private organization wants to create an encampment on their private property to assist those experiencing homelessness, is that allowed? 

Edmonds allows for temporary homeless encampments on private property but has a process for the regulation of such encampments. See Chapter 17.20 Edmonds City Code entitled “Temporary Homeless Encampment.”

How much does the City of Edmonds spend per year on Human Services?
The current operating budget is $325,000 which includes one full time employee and a contracted social worker through Compass Health. In addition, the City of Edmonds has allocated $3,000,000 for household support grants to provide one-time reimbursable (we pay the bills) $2,500 grants for Edmonds residents who qualify in an effort to keep people in their homes. (See city website for details).

Does Edmonds have motel vouchers that can be utilized to house those experiencing homelessness? 
Yes, Edmonds has five motel vouchers funded by the Department of Commerce. They allow for stays up to six months at a time. Currently, they are all in use.

Does the police department have funds to be utilized for motel stays?
Yes, the police department has $6000-$7000 for additional temporary motel stays.

Where do people go after those motel stays?
 Often the police help individuals into motel rooms while Human Services begins coordinating services and looking for available shelter. Edmonds has been able to get people placed in a variety of places depending on their needs, some need behavioral health treatment and others are able to work through the section 8 process and secure housing, veterans or disabled individuals qualify for different types of support as well. It is all very dependent on the person in terms of what Edmonds is able to locate.

Does the Frances Anderson Center still offer showers for those experiencing homelessness? 
Yes, the Frances Anderson Center still offers the shower program. However, since the pandemic, few have taken advantage of the opportunity.

Does Edmonds transport homeless people to outside jurisdictions?
Occasionally shelter space is secured in a facility in Everett, but for the most part people stay in the Edmonds/Lynnwood area. Edmonds partners with Compass Health and is in the beginning stages of utilizing their supportive housing and behavioral health facilities as well.

Does Edmonds have a social worker on staff?
Yes, Edmonds has a social worker provided by Compass Health who works directly with the Police Department.  

Does Edmonds have human services staff?
Yes, Edmonds has one full-time human services employee. The Deputy Parks Director also has a component of her job dedicated to human services.

Are the human services staff dedicated strictly to homelessness?
 No, most of their time is spent on homeless prevention and service coordination for those who are vulnerable and struggling to stay in their existing housing, needing support for food, etc.

Does Edmonds assist in efforts to prevent individuals from becoming homeless? 
Yes, Edmonds has successfully coordinated services for hundreds of people in an effort to keep them from being homeless.

Is there any current data on how many homeless individuals live in Edmonds and whether there has been an influx from other areas?  Edmonds estimates there are 15 chronically unsheltered people in Edmonds. Edmonds has not seen an influx from other areas.

Has Edmonds been able to offer shelter to anyone experiencing homelessness? 
Yes, Edmonds recently found shelter for three individuals with mental health challenges as well as an estimated additional 15 other individuals.

Is Edmonds able to track how many individuals have accepted shelter and human services? 
Yes, this is a key component to having Compass Health on board. They have the case management software that is HIPPA compliant and is connecting to neighboring jurisdictions so that there is not duplication in service coordination.

Is Edmonds able to track how many individuals are cited per this ordinance?
Yes, the police department maintains reports of those actually arrested and the prosecutor’s office will have data on how many individuals are charged.

Would Edmond Community Court be available for the adjudication of these crimes? 
Yes, the Community Court located on Highway 99 offers wrap-around services and would be a good fit.

Do other cities have similar ordinances in place?
Yes, many cities including the cities of Everett, Mill Creek, Lynnwood, Marysville, Bellevue, Mercer Island and Redmond have similar ordinances.