(The Center Square) – The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, alongside three homeless individuals residing in Burien, filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the city’s recently enacted public camping ordinance.
Burien’s Ordinance 827 effectively bans homeless people from living on any public property at any time. The only exceptions are certain designated, marked areas between the hours of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.. However, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness says there are no such designated areas in existence as the city has yet to establish any.
The lawsuit charges the city with violating the Washington State Constitution by adopting a vague and almost incomprehensible ordinance that criminalizes the status of being homeless, inflicts cruel and unusual punishment, and deprives people of due process of law.
“It shouldn’t be a crime to be human and homeless,” Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director Alison Eisinger said in a news release. “We want to repeal this unjust law that effectively bans homeless individuals from living in Burien. This law is the opposite of helpful.”
The coalition’s lawsuit also alleges that Ordinance 827 infringes on due process rights by granting law enforcement discretion without clear guidelines. In turn, this denies homeless people in Burien the right to privacy and freedom of movement, the group says.
An incident that occurred on the first night the ban went into effect was cited, in which King County Sheriff’s deputies, who serve as Burien’s contracted police force, informed homeless people living at a site in Burien that they could no longer live there and risked arrest if they stayed. All residents dispersed and the city removed and disposed of their remaining property.
Elizabeth Hale, Alex Hale and Carlo Paz, who are homeless, criticized the city’s approach, noting in the news release that “We want to be treated as people who have a right to live in this town.”
Last month, the Burien City Council approved $1 million from King County to construct and operate 35 pallet shelters.
The pallet shelters will operate for up to one year, or whenever the $1 million from King County runs out. According to the legislation, the estimated grand total for setting up and operating the 35 pallet shelters for one year ranges between $900,000 and $1.2 million.
The Center Square reached out to the city for comment on the lawsuit but was told the city is unable to comment on pending litigation at this time.