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Seattle City Council approves standards for encampments hosted by religious entities

Councilmember Nick Licata

Seattle City Council approves standards for encampments hosted by religious entities

Seattle – In May 2011, the Seattle City Council adopted Resolution 31292, setting out a work plan to help homeless people who may not be served by the shelter system.  One of the action items addressed in the resolution was clarification of faith-based community shelter support in church buildings, parking lots, or land leased to churches.

Council Bill 117288, adopted unanimously today, is a step in that direction.  The City outlines standards that a religious facility is expected to maintain when operating encampments.

The Bill establishes health and safety standards where none previously existed.  Those standards include: a 100 person limit, compliance with fire safety and health standards, provision of toilets, running water and garbage collection, and allowing officials of the Public Health Department, the Fire Department, and the Department of Planning and Development to inspect encampments, without prior notice, to determine compliance with these standards.

This ordinance does not change the current code provision that allows other entities, including secular entities, to host transitional encampments after obtaining a temporary use permit according to existing procedures in the Seattle Land Use Code.

State law (RCW 35.21.915) requires that cities not impose conditions other than those necessary to protect public health and safety and that do not burden the decisions or actions of a religious organization regarding the location or shelter for homeless people on property owned by the religious organization. 

The other items on in the Resolution 31292 work program are still under review, with progress expected in the 2012 budget deliberations.

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