by Jack Mayne Burien was added to a Seattle University study of laws affecting the homeless because of the cityâ€™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 â€œare laws punishing behaviors that are necessary for survival.â€ 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. â€œFor those without shelter, there is no alternative but to conduct these behaviors in public,â€ the study said. â€œCamping outdoors, urinating in public, sitting or lying down on sidewalks â€“ these laws target homeless people either in practice or outright.â€ 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 reportâ€™s authors did not contact City staff regarding their analysis or findings.â€ Also included in the study were Seattle, Spokane, Vancouver, Bellingham, Auburn, Pasco and 65 others. Burienâ€™s National Attention The SU study says Burien received national attention for recently adopting ordinances that â€œallows police officers to issue a trespass warning for any conduct that is â€˜dangerous, unsafe, illegal, or unreasonably disruptive to other uses of public property.â€™â€ That could include using electronic or communication devices â€œin 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.â€ These â€œtrespass 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.â€ The individual receiving the warning need not be charged, tried, or convicted of any crime. That got the SU study groupâ€™s attention. Negative Response The immediate response to the Burien trespass ordinance was â€œoverwhelmingly negative,â€ the Seattle University study report said. The report says Burien Evangelical Church Pastor Mike Alben, â€œcriticized the treatment of homeless individuals as affording them â€˜little to no dignity.â€™” The study says the Seattle office of the American Civil Liberties Union sent Burien a letter urging repeal of the law for being â€œcounterproductive as a matter of policy and unconstitutional.â€ Then the SU study says Burien City Manager Kamuron Gurol â€œresponded eight days later in a statement that defended the constitutionality of the ordinance and pointed to the guaranteed right of appeal as â€˜an essential feature of the ordinance.â€™â€ Not good enough, says the university study report. â€œThe appeals process is available only to individuals receiving a trespass warning for a period longer than seven days,â€ and it must be made in writing â€œwith a copy of the warning delivered to the cityâ€™s legal department.â€ The city did repeal aÂ part of the ordinance relating toÂ 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 â€œshall have discretionary authority to enforce a violation as either a civil infraction â€¦ or as a criminal misdemeanor…â€ That could mean a sentence including 90 days in jail and $1,000 in fines, the law studentâ€™s study said. Also the ordinance â€œallows a police officer to banish an individual from a public place without the individual being charged, tried, or convicted of any crime or infraction.â€ That means it could be used to â€œprevent a wide variety of behaviors, including obstruction of sidewalks, bathing in public waters, urinating/defecating in public, and creating a nuisance through body odor.â€ So Burien Police have the power to both banish a person and to cite them for offenses. â€œWithout more specific data on the enforcement â€¦ researchers are unable to shed light on how enforcement practices relate to existing legal and policy concerns about Burienâ€™s controversial law.â€ Banish â€˜visible povertyâ€™ With â€œoverlapping ordinances, covering such categories as obstruction of sidewalks, bathing in public waters, urinating/defecating in public, and creating body odor,â€ Burien has â€œcodified expansive measures aimed at removing visible poverty.â€ This â€œdiscriminatory enforcementâ€ puts Burien â€œunder heavy scrutiny by the local community and homeless rights advocates statewide.â€ 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 â€œincreasingly criminalize homelessness by outlawing necessary, life-sustaining activities.â€ Since 2000, the SU study says â€œWashington 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,â€ 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, â€œcities typically fail to provide sufficient access to reasonable alternatives such as 24-hour restrooms and hygiene centers â€œWhether you live in a small town or a large metropolis, municipalities are likely to aggressively criminalize homelessness,â€ the report says.
Read The B-Town Blog’sÂ extensive coverage of this topic here.]]>