In 2019, the 9th Circuit Court ruled in the case of Martin v. City of Boise. In this case, the Court found that two City of Boise ordinances - a disorderly conduct ordinance and a camping ordinance - violated the Eighth Amendment because "it (the ordinances) imposed criminal sanctions against homeless individuals for sleeping outdoors on public property when no alternative shelter was available."
How does this decision impact us in Shelton? When there is camping enforcement activity that we'd like to pursue, there must be a meaningful alternative for any impacted individuals, such as shelter space or a legal place to camp. The Martin decision impacts every community in our state, but there are unique challenges that we face in Shelton that we must acknowledge and work together to solve.
Our available shelters regularly find themselves at capacity. We do not have enough shelter space for every homeless individual in our community. These resources are working with few staff and volunteers and tight budgets.
We are also grappling with a lack of readily available space in our local jail. When there are no shelter beds available, plus no jail space for our officers to use, we don’t have any options for either having individuals access shelter or enforcing a public camping ordinance.
Our community is growing and working to solve these issues will require significant coordination and partnership between us, Mason County, the state and our community non-profit partners.
The City Council has passed two ordinances in the past year directly related to homelessness: Ordinance 1977-0921 and Ordinance 1987-0422:
- Ordinance 1977-0921 (November 2021): Created a new chapter of the Shelton Municipal Code relating to public camping and homeless encampments. This ordinance clearly defines public camping and lists the standards for initial contact by a City employee (typically a police or code enforcement officer): advise the individual that camping on public property is prohibited and offer available shelter space. It is noted in this ordinance that criminal violations shall only be used as a last resort.
- Ordinance 1987-0422 (July 2022): Amended two chapters of the Shelton Municipal Code (20.47.010 and 8.70) related to camping on private property. The updates to this ordinance were proposed to provide our code enforcement officers with another tool to help address public safety and sanitation concerns on private property in Shelton. With this ordinance, we refined the process outlined in 2015 for community organizations to host temporary homeless encampments on private property with an appropriate permit. Permit approval criteria are listed for two types of temporary encampments.
Additionally, we convened a Homelessness Task Force earlier this year, comprised of law enforcement, non-profit service providers, community members, business owners, public health, and other government officials. We wanted to include a wide range of experience and perspectives on this task force because we know that homelessness impacts each of us in multiple ways.
The Task Force meets regularly at the Civic Center. Their meetings are recorded and available to watch on our YouTube channel. Ultimately, the Task Force is going to prepare a list of 6-8 short, medium, and long-term recommendations to present to the City Council. The City Council will then decide how they'd like to approach these recommendations. Once the Task Force makes their recommendations, we will post them here.
We are hosting a Spotlight Shelton event on our homelessness response on Tuesday, October 11 from 6-8 p.m. at the Civic Center (525 West Cota Street). Join City staff, public safety partners, and community organizations to learn more about the topic of homelessness in Shelton and the City's opportunities and challenges in this area. The Homelessness Task Force's recommendations will also be available for Spotlight Shelton attendees.