SeattleUnivHomelessStudy15 by Jack Mayne Burien was added to a Seattle University study of laws affecting the homeless because of the city’s passage of ordinances 606 and 621, the study said upon its release Wednesday (May 6). The university law school study said the local ordinances here and around the state “are laws punishing behaviors that are necessary for survival.” The study is called the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project and was conducted and written by law students Scott MacDonald and Justin Olson, and supervised by Professor Sara Rankin of the Seattle University School of Law. “For those without shelter, there is no alternative but to conduct these behaviors in public,” the study said. “Camping outdoors, urinating in public, sitting or lying down on sidewalks – these laws target homeless people either in practice or outright.” Requests for comment from Professor Rankin were not responded to immediately and Burien City Manager Kamuron Gurol said through a spokesperson that the city was studying the report before commenting. The spokesperson added, “The report’s authors did not contact City staff regarding their analysis or findings.” Also included in the study were Seattle, Spokane, Vancouver, Bellingham, Auburn, Pasco and 65 others. Burien’s National Attention The SU study says Burien received national attention for recently adopting ordinances that “allows police officers to issue a trespass warning for any conduct that is ‘dangerous, unsafe, illegal, or unreasonably disruptive to other uses of public property.’” That could include using electronic or communication devices “in a manner that is unreasonably disruptive to others, wearing insufficient clothing for the location, or even having body odor that is unreasonably offensive to others.” These “trespass violations allow police to banish individuals from an area for up to seven days after the first warning, and then up to a year for any subsequent warnings.” The individual receiving the warning need not be charged, tried, or convicted of any crime. That got the SU study group’s attention. Negative Response The immediate response to the Burien trespass ordinance was “overwhelmingly negative,” the Seattle University study report said. The report says Burien Evangelical Church Pastor Mike Alben, “criticized the treatment of homeless individuals as affording them ‘little to no dignity.’” The study says the Seattle office of the American Civil Liberties Union sent Burien a letter urging repeal of the law for being “counterproductive as a matter of policy and unconstitutional.” Then the SU study says Burien City Manager Kamuron Gurol “responded eight days later in a statement that defended the constitutionality of the ordinance and pointed to the guaranteed right of appeal as ‘an essential feature of the ordinance.’” Not good enough, says the university study report. “The appeals process is available only to individuals receiving a trespass warning for a period longer than seven days,” and it must be made in writing “with a copy of the warning delivered to the city’s legal department.” The city did repeal a part of the ordinance relating to body odor, but retained all the rest of the law. Punishment is worrisome The SU report says the Burien ordinances have ranges of punishment of fines from $50 to punishment that “is far more worrisome.” Within the criminalization ordinances themselves, punishments range from fines of $50 up to $250 for each violation. But, says the report, because Burien “shall have discretionary authority to enforce a violation as either a civil infraction … or as a criminal misdemeanor…” That could mean a sentence including 90 days in jail and $1,000 in fines, the law student’s study said. Also the ordinance “allows a police officer to banish an individual from a public place without the individual being charged, tried, or convicted of any crime or infraction.” That means it could be used to “prevent a wide variety of behaviors, including obstruction of sidewalks, bathing in public waters, urinating/defecating in public, and creating a nuisance through body odor.” So Burien Police have the power to both banish a person and to cite them for offenses. “Without more specific data on the enforcement … researchers are unable to shed light on how enforcement practices relate to existing legal and policy concerns about Burien’s controversial law.” Banish ‘visible poverty’ With “overlapping ordinances, covering such categories as obstruction of sidewalks, bathing in public waters, urinating/defecating in public, and creating body odor,” Burien has “codified expansive measures aimed at removing visible poverty.” This “discriminatory enforcement” puts Burien “under heavy scrutiny by the local community and homeless rights advocates statewide.” Across the state Burien was just one part of the Seattle University study that said that, until it was conducted, no one knew if the laws were numerous and how and even if they were enforced. The study of 72 Washington cities shows they “increasingly criminalize homelessness by outlawing necessary, life-sustaining activities.” Since 2000, the SU study says “Washington cities have enacted new ordinances targeting homelessness in 288 new ways, increasing the amount of criminalization by more than 50 percent compared to prior years,” and laws that limit or prohibit sitting or standing in a public place are on the books of 78 percent of state cities as are laws that prohibit or limit sleeping in public places. And the University study says that while most cities criminalize urination and defecation in public, “cities typically fail to provide sufficient access to reasonable alternatives such as 24-hour restrooms and hygiene centers “Whether you live in a small town or a large metropolis, municipalities are likely to aggressively criminalize homelessness,” the report says.

Read The B-Town Blog’s extensive coverage of this topic here.