Port Townsend City Council discusses temporary encampments

Request for input from the public likely amid talks on updating city’s comprehensive 20-year plan.

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council is likely to address the topic of temporary encampments with a request for input from the public.

Councilman Bob Gray on Monday night said he recommended that the City Council open this issue up to the public before any decisions are made.

“It’s a small town, and this is an important issue,” Gray said.

Several council members nodded their heads. No date has been set for such a hearing.

The council had met to continue discussions about updating the city’s comprehensive 20-year plan, focusing in particular on the lack of a city ordinance that regulates temporary encampments.

Gray, a recent insurance audit found that the city had ordinances for temporary housing and events, but not encampments.

Currently, there is a winter shelter for Port Townsend’s homeless population, but Gray said when summer rolled around, the city simply allowed people to stay in tents at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

However, with very little oversight of the encampment, Gray said it wasn’t an ideal situation.

“With no one in charge, it kind of deteriorated quickly,” he said.

With no requirements on who could be in the camp, Gray said many of the issues came due to people coming in from out of town.

“My position is to go slow since we’ve already had some experiences with the winter shelter and the fairgrounds,” Gray said.

“There’s a need here, but a few can overshadow that need.”

While the debate at the council meeting was heated, very little headway was made.

Gray said the two biggest issues were around sponsoring organizations and the number of people who could live in an organized encampment.

By state law, the encampments must have a sponsoring organization that will deal with things such as sanitation and control the land that people are camping on.

Currently, religious, government and nonprofit organizations can legally be a sponsor.

However, according to Gray, there was some dispute over whether the city officials wants to allow nonprofits.

As far as the size of the encampments, populations sizes ranging from 30 to 50 people were proposed. In previous years, there have only been about 10 people camping at the fairgrounds.

Currently, there are no more meetings scheduled on this topic; however, the council will continue to sort through a variety of topics as they work to update the comprehensive plan.

The plan covers everything from the city’s predicted population growth to housing and utility plans for the next 20 years.

The city is required to update certain aspects of the plan, such as population projections. However, other issues like the encampments are voluntary updates.

The next City Council meeting on the comprehensive plan will be next Tuesday.

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East Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.

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