SAMMAMISH -- After an hours-long debate, the Sammamish City Council voted to take stricter measures against homeless encampments sponsored by local churches.
During this past winter in Sammamish, the Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church hosted the group that ranged from 60-95 people per night. But the city permit only allowed them to stay for a few months.
Dozens filed into the council meeting Tuesday to speak their piece, from neighbors, to homeless advocates, to the homeless themselves. Ultimately the City Council decided to enact tougher laws. A camp can only stay in Sammamish for a four months at a time once a year and any one church can host the group every 18 months.
“I think if we do one per year, I think it should be possible for other cities to pitch in,” said Mayor Tom Vance.
Before setting up camp each time, the group must also run each person through the sex offender database and check for active warrants.
“We have a standard of safety that we want to preserve. We also want to show our compassion and service and it’s a balance between those two,” said council member Ramiro Valderrama.
Tent City 4 said they already run background checks on all members when they first enter the camp. Those with Mary Queen of Peace said limiting how often they can host not only infringes on their religious right to help the needy but could be illegal.
“Homelessness is not going to go away any time soon. It’s not the final word on the issue,” said Zoltan Abraham.
Abraham said Mary Queen of Peace does not plan to try civil disobedience or sue the city despite the legal questioning. He does however hope to work more with the city to find a compromise.