MOSES LAKE — Moses Lake will no longer allow individuals to camp in city parks between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., according to an ordinance passed by the Moses Lake City Council Tuesday night, in response to public outcry over use of the parks by the city’s homeless population since September.
The ordinance, which does not address camping on city sidewalks, right-of-ways or other public property, would allow law enforcement officers to contact people entering or remaining in the park after hours and potentially arrest and prosecute them for criminal trespass. The ordinance will take effect Dec. 22.
The ordinance was passed by a majority of council members. Another ordinance which would have levied penalties against a person camping or storing personal property on any city property, including sidewalks, right-of-ways and other public property, failed after a plurality of council members voted against adoption.
The failed ordinance would have replaced a current ordinance which prohibits all camping on all city property, currently considered unconstitutional when the city does not have sufficient shelter beds to house the homeless, according to a September decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Council member Ryann Leonard, who voted against the failed ordinance, said that she did not feel it was appropriate to enforce a monetary penalty on individuals experiencing financial stress. If passed, the ordinance would have fined offenders $20 for first-time offenses and $40 for every subsequent offense.
In contrast, Leonard said that the ordinance that did pass and will regulate after-hours use of city parks was a matter of public safety. Council member Daryl Jackson cast the only vote against that ordinance.
Before voting on the issue, the council heard from members of the community concerned with the effects the homeless have on public safety, as well as some concerned with the tone of the conversation.
Connie Baulne, circulation supervisor for the Moses Lake Public Library, described witnessing both discrimination against the homeless and threatening behaviors from the homeless.
“I have been asked to call the police on a patron who was sleeping,” Baulne said, a request which she refused. “But some have been harassed or threatened by the homeless.”
Baulne said that the library has had to contend with public defecation and urination around the building and has documented a 30 percent decrease in attendance at Saturday Storytime events over the last three months.
“When asked why, the most common answer is, ‘I do not feel safe bringing my children to the library,’” said Baulne.
Tyler Calhoun, a local homeless veteran, expressed disappointment in the “denigrating” tone of some members of the community when addressing the homeless, and proposed the city focus in part on affordable housing solutions to the issue. Calhoun asked the council to vote “no” on both ordinances.
Also speaking at the meeting was Grant County Prosecutor Garth Dano, who said that the fundamental question in front of the council was to decide whether it was a collective responsibility of the city to take care of the homeless.
Dano suggested that the city look at public property that could be cordoned and allotted to use by the homeless, possibly making use of county funds for homelessness, but said he took issue with people who suggested that it was the responsibility of himself and others to pay for homeless services.
“That’s where I draw the line,” Dano said. “No, it’s not.”