Dear Mayor Ryder and Council Members,
Thank you for taking the time to consider the proposed changes to Lacey’s Emergency Housing Facilities Ordinance. Just Housing-a local homeless advocacy group- and Columbia Legal Services, believe that the proposed changes are essential for Lacey to be a more active participant in responding to our regional homeless crisis. We hope you will move forward with approving the current amendments to the County’s Emergency Housing Facilities Ordinance.
Unfortunately, the timing of the public hearing conflicts with a March to End Sweeps that Just Housing and community partners have been organizing over the past month and so many of our members will not be able to be present during the hearing. However, we hope that this letter and the testimony of representatives that are present will provide the Mayor and Council with an adequate understanding about why we believe these changes are so important and how we hope you can further improve the ordinance as we move forward.
While we see many positive changes in the currently proposed amendments, we also recognize that there are some amendments that The City of Olympia made to their respective ordinances that are not reflected in the Lacey’s amendments- primarily related to the language around ID/background check/reporting requirements.
We want to encourage you, as you move forward, to seriously consider reducing the barriers around ID, background check, and reporting requirements in the same way that Olympia has- by using language that allows for, but does not mandate, these requirements. Below, we have listed reasons for why we believe this change is important.
Our advocacy and organizing played a significant role in persuading Olympia City Staff and Council members to lower the barriers around these ordinance requirements.In part, this advocacy influenced research carried out by the Olympia Planning Commission, which-simply put- showed that where people with criminal histories or sexual offense backgrounds are living does not influence the likelihood of recidivism. We encourage you to reach out the Committee for more details on this research.
While we hope you will consider these additional changes in the near future, we support moving forward with amendments to the ordinance- as currently proposed- as soon as possible.
We look forward to continuing to advocate and work with The City of Lacey towards just, compassionate, and effective solutions to our regional homelessness crisis.
Reasons why we support reducing barriers around ID, background check, and reporting requirements:
· Most shelters, including The Mitigation Site, have lower-barrier background check/reporting requirements. These lower-barrier requirements have been successful enough to not require further amendments and have not been shown to jeopardize the public safety of neighbors and the surrounding community.
· Many people living on the streets do not have ID and are unable to obtain it for numerous reasons (inability to obtain other proof of identification, costs, no address, etc).
· Reducing unnecessary barriers opens doors for a greater variety of creative and effective solutions to our housing and homelessness crisis.Lowering barriers does not mean that all sanctioned encampments will be low-barrier, rather it allows for a range of low to high barrier facilities.
· Lowering barriers to shelter is an evidence-based, effective practice that has proved effective across the country. It enables our community to support the Best Practicesof Housing First and Vulnerability Based placement for services. Evidence-based best practices have shown that people are better able to address substance use, mental health, and medical health challenges when they have a stable place find shelter.
· People who are poor and/or houseless are not inherently more dangerous or inclined to criminal behavior than people with more resources. We have a responsibility as a community to promote equitable laws and practices that do not support harmful stereotypes and generalizations and that do not indirectly or directly promote different treatment of people based on their identified demographics.
The homelessness crisis is the result of systemic social, economic, and housing market failures. Thus, solutions that treat the people suffering the most from these failures as the problem, as opposed to focusing on the systemic issues, will harm our ability to adequately address this crisis.
· Host/sponsor agencies should be able to determine who can and cannot access their shelter/encampment. (Ex. Allowing the agencies to determine what levels of sex offenders-if any- they will accept and whether they will accept people with active warrants.)
· Not adopting lower-barrier screening requirements may limit who the amended version of the ordinance will impact, as a sizable number of people will still be unable to access safe and legal shelter.
· There are no laws that ban people with sex offenses (with the exception of sex offenses involving minors) from private, religious, or public property. Not enabling hosts to decide at their own discretion who they will allow at their encampment is creating an unnecessary barrier.
· Banning people with warrants/requiring providers of services to report people with warrants does not improve community safety. For one, most warrants those who are unsheltered have are for non-violent and minor crimes. Further, if this is the requirement, people with warrants will simply continue to not access services, which inhibits our ability as a community to effectively respond to this crisis.
· Making it so that all sex offenders cannot access any sanctioned shelter makes our community more unsafe. It is statistically proven that the more unstable people’s living conditions are, the more likely it is that people with sex offenses will re-offend. This is why people’s sex offender level increases when they become homeless. Enabling hosts/sponsors to determine what levels- if any- of sex offenders they will accept increases the likelihood that even people with sex offenses will be able to access safe and legal shelter, improving the general safety of our community.
Thank you for taking all of this into consideration.
Columbia Legal Services
Sarah Nagy – Staff Attorney
Columbia Legal Services
Basic Human Needs Project