Mercer Island City Council approves public camping ban aimed at homeless

The Mercer Island City Council on Tuesday approved a controversial law targeting people experiencing homelessness after hours of debate. 

The new ordinance bans public camping in the city

Anyone in violation of the new ordinance, could face a $1000 fine, or up to 90 days in jail, however police officials say similar laws have been on the books for decades, and they have never arrested anyone yet.

City officials say that this was the best way to help them get off the streets and into shelters, though the small, wealthy town of 26,000 people does not have its own shelters on the island. They'll be sending people experiencing homelessness to shetlers in Bellevue and Kirkland.

Enforcement of the new law is not applicable if there is no shelter space available.

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The council listened to about three hours of public input from the community. 

Supporters of the measure said they've seen an increase in shoplifting and that non-enforcement invites more homeless to the island. Opponents argue there's not enough shelter space to make the law enforceable. 

Jordan Friedman was the last person to provide input to the council. He told Q13 News he hoped the city would delay its decision and reconsider the ordinance.

"I think that’s a real gap in the way we treat people who are experiencing homelessness, treating them as individuals, getting to know them, getting to know their situation, instead of lumping them into one group of people and we don’t want to deal with their problem. We just want to move them to a shelter," said Friedman.

The new law passed in a 6-1 vote. Councilman Craig Reynolds was the "no" vote.

City officials say they will revisit this new law in six months to see how it is working.