The phrase “No Sit/Lie” refers to a clause within OMC 9.16.180(the Pedestrian Interference Ordinance). The clause makes it illegal to “between the hours of 7 a.m. and 12 a.m., sit or lie on any sidewalk, street or alley within the Downtown Commercial Zone.”
The OMC defines “sit or lie” as “to sit or lie down upon any blanket, sleeping bag, bedroll, tarpaulin, cardboard, or any other similar object placed upon the sidewalk, street or alley.”
You can see the entire ordinance at :
When was it put it place?
Who put it in place?
The Olympia City Council that was active in 2013.
Why was it put in place?
This law was put in place as a direct response to increasing visible poverty and homelessness downtown, with the purpose of decreasing visible homelessness in the downtown core.
Towards the end of 2012, after 2 homicides in encampments in the woods, street dependent youth began camping outside of City Hall for safety. As the number of people camping outside of City Hall and other more visible places downtown began to grow, the City of Olympia decided it was time to place more restrictions on sitting/lying on sidewalks and camping to be put in place.
Similar laws have been put in place in cities across the country as the homelessness crisis has worsened nationwide.
One of the core reasons why proponents of the law within city government are pushing for it to remain in place is because it is one of the only “tools” they have to control the visibility of the homeless population.
What has been the impact of this ordinance?
This ordinance disproportionately impacts people who are houseless as those who are houseless are extremely limited with legal places they can rest and sit. Often, public property is the only option people have for sitting and resting. The enactment of this law and the camping ban in 2013 had an immediate and significant impact on people’s ability to rest/camp in the downtown corridor, pushing many people without homes back into the woods, which is much more unsafe.
Since the opening of the Warming Centers/Community Care Center this law has had less of a negative impact because people have an alternative location to go to for 6 hours, 6 days per week. However, there are still significant periods of time where people do not have legal alternatives to rest, particularly in the early morning hours and later evening hours and on Saturdays when the CCC is closed all day. The closure of the Artesian Commons has also further limited people’s options for places of rest.
In September 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that enforcement of ordinances like No Sit/Lie is unconstitutional, which has led to a pause/slow down in enforcement. This is why we are seeing more camping/resting again downtown. But how long this pause/slow down of enforcement will last is uncertain.
Proponents of the clause say that an impact of the law is that it makes downtown more welcoming to visitors and shoppers, which helps local businesses be more successful.
Wouldn’t repealing the clause make sidewalks impassable?
Advocates of this clause being repealed argue that this claim is untrue, because the Pedestrian Interference ordinance already makes it illegal to, “In a public place, intentionally walk, stand, sit, lie, grasp a person, or place an object in such a manner as to obstruct or impede, or tending to obstruct or impede, the free passage of any person or vehicle, or to require another person or a driver of a vehicle to take action to avoid physical contact.”
Opponent’s of No Sit/Lie therefore claim that the purpose of the clause is not to ensure that public walkways are passable, but to limit the visibility of a specific population within the downtown corridor, even if they are not obstructing pedestrians.
Aren’t there other places for people to go?
The Community Care Center is only open 6 days a week, 6 hours per day. Parks close after dusk. Union Gospel Mission has limited hours. We have a shortage of hundreds of shelter beds. The 2018 Point-in-Time Count, counted 835 houseless people in Thurston County. It is generally accepted that the limitations of the PIT count, mean that it tends to undercount between 40-50%. Understanding this, we know that there are between 1,000-2,000 people homeless in Thurston County. On the other hand, depending on the time of year, we only have between 220-420 shelter beds available.
This means that there are times between 7am-12am every day where hundreds of people have no legal places to rest and sleep.
Is this law constitutional?
The Department of Justice and the 9th Circuit Court of Appealshave deemed the enforcement of laws like No Sit/Lie unconstitutional, when people do not have legal alternatives to rest and sit. Their reasoning for this decision is that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment to penalize someone for performing unavoidable, necessary, and life sustaining human activities, when they have no other legal alternative locations to perform them.
What counts as “enforcement?”
Proponents of the clause argue that the “enforcement” impact of this clause is insignificant, because people are rarely actually cited or arrested for violating this ordinance.
Opponents of this law and The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty recognize that using this law to move people along, even without arrest or citation, constitutes “enforcement”, because the threat of citation or arrest is still used to incentivize cooperation with the ordinance. Claiming that the enforcement impact is insignificant because there is no arrest or citation, is like robbing a bank using the threat of a gun, but then claiming it was insignificant that one had a gun because it wasn’t used.
A bottom line for opponents of the clause, is that the lack of arrest or citation relies on people cooperating with the ordinance. People are arrested and cited when they refuse to move along. For instance, a street dependent youth was arrested in August of 2018 for sitting on the sidewalk and refusing to move along.
How often is this law enforced?
Again, proponents would say it is rarely used because of the numbers of actual arrests and citations.
Opponents, who recognize enforcement as any use of the law to get people to move along, claim that it is used all the time and impacts the daily lives of those surviving on the streets. Also, there is an issue with inconsistency in enforcement. The law is enforced more or less vigorously depending upon the specific location downtown, the current political climate, the currentlegal climate, which officers are on duty etc. Times of truly minimal enforcement are often followed by “crackdowns” in enforcement- again, largely due to changes in the political climate.
This law is also inconsistently enforced based on the demographics people belong to. It is disproportionalty used against those who are houseless. All of this inconsistency is very harmful to those who are impacted the most by enforcement.
Who has asked for this ordinance to be repealed?
Prior to its enactment in 2013, houseless individuals, service providers, housing advocates, and supportive business owners/community members spoke and advocated against it.
After it’s enactment, houseless folk, housing advocates, and supportive community members protested the laws through sit-ins on the sidewalk. Soon after, a group of houseless folks created Camp Quixote as a direct protest to the law.
In 2016, Just Housing Olympia began advocating for the repeal of this ordinance. Outside of any organized group, houseless folks, housing advocates, many service providers, and supportive business owners/community members have also continued to advocate for its repeal.
In 2019, Olympia City Council Member Renata Rollins made a motion to repeal the clause. This was the first time that an official proposal to repeal the No Sit/Lie clause was made since its enactment. Her motion was only seconded by one other Council Member, Clark Gilman. The motion was then referred to Committee, where is failed to gain futher support.
Other relevant info and talking points for people who support the repeal of the ordinance:
Numerous national studies have demonstrated that criminalization is an ineffective and costly response to homelessness. See: https://www.nlchp.org/documents/No_Safe_Place
It is discriminatory and unjust: Homelessness truly does have an impact on the well-being of our community, particularly downtown. It is something that impacts not only people who are houseless downtown, but businesses, visitors, shoppers etc.
However, trying to solve those issues and improve the lives of specific Olympia residents by criminalizing another demographic and pushing that demographic of our community members into more unsafe places/circumstances is discriminatory and unjust.
It is not an effective solution. Since the law was enacted in 2013, the numbers of those experiencing homelessness have only grown, coupled with the visibility of it and the impacts of it on the rest of the community. Banning the visibility of homelessness in specific areas does not make homelessness go away, it simply pushes people into other locations while doing nothing to address the root issues.
It is a problem-moving, not problem-solving approach: Downtown is a place where all community members should feel welcome, including our houseless community members who may not be able to afford the food and goods sold at the shops.
Ending criminalization will allow us to focus on effective solutions that truly benefit the well-being of our entire community– garbage removal, 24/7 bathrooms, housing, shelters,etc.
Removing this ordinance is a way for our community to acknowledge that trying to address homelessness through criminalization was a mistake and to start healing from the negative impacts of this mistake.