The city of Vancouver, Washington could adopt amendments to its unlawful camping ordinance at its meeting Monday.
If adopted, it would allow camping in public places overnight, said Jeff Young, the chief assistant city attorney.
The amendment would carve out a time — from 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. — when it would be lawful to camp on public property in the city’s limits.
Young said the city is responding to an Aug. 6 memo issued by the Department of Justice.
The memo aimed to clarify a 2006 court ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling said a city ordinance that forbids sleeping in public for homeless people violates the Constitution’s 8th Amendment — the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
“Every human needs to sleep,” Young said, describing the ruling. “So, having an ordinance that basically forbids sleeping in public for homeless people is unconstitutional.”
Young said provisions of the ordinance that deal with disorderly conduct and public drinking — the “origin” of many of the complaints about the homeless — aren’t part of what’s being proposed Monday.
“These sorts of things are still unlawful under the Vancouver Municipal Code and there’s not a request to change those things,” he said.
Andy Silver, executive director of Clark County’s Council for the Homeless, encouraged the city to adopt the ordinance.
“In the month of August alone, we could not serve 363 people who needed emergency shelter because all the shelters were full,” he wrote in an email Monday. “What are those men, women and children to do? As a community we say to them there is no help available, but do not let your child sleep because it is illegal.”
If adopted Monday, the city would take public comment at its meeting next week before formally adopting the amendment.