After nearly two hours of discussion, the Eureka City Council voted Tuesday to pass an ordinance repealing and replacing the city’s camping ordinance, with Councilmember Leslie Castellano dissenting.
The ordinance was altered to reflect public concern over perceived criminalization of homelessness, changing the recommended criminal charges for involuntary camping from a misdemeanor to an infraction.
According to city attorney Robert Black, the ordinance was drafted to replace the existing ordinance which had been rendered moot by the Martin vs. City of Boise decision.
“The city has been involved in litigation stemming from the Palco Marsh abatement,” Black said in his opening comments on the agenda item. “Litigation has largely dragged on. … One step in resolving that litigation is revising our camping ordinance and bringing it into compliance with federal law. [Martin v. Boise] basically said by basis of their status (homeless campers) cannot be criminalized by camping. We now have an ordinance that basically upholds that prohibition. This allows large areas of public space in the city to be available to people for whom there is no shelter space.”
The new ordinance prohibits involuntary camping in most parts of the city, specifically business districts and high-use trail areas. The Eureka Police Department and city councilmembers said they have received a large number of complaints from citizens and business owners about camping, litter and public safety.
But both Black and EPD Captain Brian Stephens say the new ordinance will most likely only be an enforcement tool to the extent it will allow officers to contact those who are camping in those areas and encourage them to seek services.
Stephens added that in practice EPD officers rarely contact people who are sleeping rough overnight, except in complaint-driven circumstances.
“The ordinance gives us the ability to legally maintain order, and address overall community needs and hopefully encourage these community members to seek out services and sheltered spaces,” Stephens wrote in a follow up email. “Those that do have a change of heart about accepting assistance is often because of the multiple contacts and the relationships that are built between members of our CSET and UPLIFT team and the community member. There are times and areas that the behavior is not acceptable and there needs to be balance and the ability for all our community members to freely utilize our public spaces.”
Previous coverage of this decision can be found here