Homeless camps spring up in ML

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Richard Byrd/Columbia Basin Herald A homeless camp that has been set off of the Alder Street Fill in Moses Lake.

MOSES LAKE — A federal court's ruling with regard to the homeless using city parks to camp has led to an increase in homeless camps in Moses Lake as of late.

Over the past few weeks social media has been abuzz over an increased number of the homeless population in Moses Lake setting up camps in city parks. In particular, according to Moses Lake Police Department Chief Kevin Fuhr, the city has received several comments and calls from citizens with regard to homeless camps that have been set up on the north end of the Alder Street Fill.

Camping is prohibited in Moses Lake’s parks and last year the city instituted a curfew between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in all city parks in an attempt to buck the trend of vandalism and crime. In addition, the city council passed an ordinance that allowed police to trespass violators from city parks for up to a year. Fuhr said his department was enforcing the ordinance and in the process of moving homeless people out of city parks when a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision effectively put a damper on that effort.

In the early September the court handed down its decision in Martin vs. City of Boise, ruling that city ordinances can violate the Eighth Amendment, which relates to cruel and unusual punishments, if they lay out criminal penalties for homeless people who sleep outdoors or on public property when there isn’t a shelter available for them to use.

“Currently the city of Moses Lake does not provide shelter for the homeless; therefore, they are allowed to camp and/or sleep in our parks and on sidewalks. Due to the court decision we have seen a huge spike in camping in city parks by our homeless population,” Fuhr said.

The chief says the city is looking at options to remain in compliance with the 9th Circuit’s decision while still keeping the city’s parks safe.

“We understand the frustration of our citizens; however, at this time we are unable to act due to the decision. We will continue to handle any criminal issues that arise, such as littering, public urination, vandalism or any other criminal acts. I would encourage everyone to contact the police department if you witness any criminal activity.”

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