Letters to the Editor

Helping others is good

I attended the Mercer Island Council meeting on Feb. 1 and many of the previous meetings. I live on Mercer Island with my husband and two children. Here are my thoughts on the passing of [Temporary Encampment] ordinance No. 10C-01.

On the positive side, I was happy to see a change in requiring a “beautiful” fence that possibly would need to be installed. I saw that as a huge unnecessary expense to each religious organization. The second being that no one under 18 and homeless could enter into Tent City for shelter when families should not be separated for the night. I am thankful that they cleared both of these items. It was also good to hear that the permit fee of $204 would be waived and the days prior to permit were shortened from 90 to 75 days. Unfortunately, these tokens of good faith are small in comparison to the problems.

The overall tone of the ordinance is negative, defensive and offensive. This ordinance was not written as they stated their intentions to be, which were about “the safety, health and welfare to all residents or visitors to Mercer Island” or that is was written “for all temporary encampment situations that may visit Mercer Island.” This ordinance was written to appease a handful of unhappy, scared residents who want to paint the homeless as dangerous and untrustworthy. It is nine pages of complicated legal jargon written with many loopholes allowing the city to deny permits for temporary encampments based on a code official’s interpretation besides all the constitutional and legal rights that it infringes upon. The Councilmembers even admitted that listing already illegal laws within the ordinance was to drive the point home that the city won’t tolerate illegal behavior from temporary encampments — or really aren’t they saying the homeless, as if it is a crime to be homeless. Would this ordinance be written in this language if we were talking about temporary encampments for boy or girl scouts?

A warrant is an official court document that gives law enforcement the permission to perform an act that would otherwise violate an individual’s civil rights. Typically, warrants are issued for someone’s arrest, though they also allow law enforcement to search a person’s home, vehicle, place of business and belongings. Warrants can only be issued after a law enforcement agent, such as an investigator, sheriff or police officer, provides a sworn, signed affidavit showing probable cause that the person named in the warrant committed a specific crime.

Is everyone in Tent City of probable cause? We know that wouldn’t hold up in court, and it is unjust to put this task upon a religious organization.

A 1/2-mile radius between hosting religious organizations is ridiculous on an Island that is roughly 3 miles wide and 5 1/2 miles long. Notifying residents 600 feet around the proposed site is another hardship when only 300 feet is typical.

It’s so sad because the ordinance starts with stating what’s important and why we should help: an estimated 8,000 people are homeless in King County, and then ends with: a code official may waive the requirements when a catastrophic event occurs. As if being homeless isn’t catastrophic enough. Times are hard for many people in our extended King County community. Let us be able to reach out to those in need with an ordinance that is welcoming, fair and protects the rights of everyone, especially those who can’t always stand up for themselves. That’s the message I want to teach my children.

Marnie Holen

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