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As Seattle battles on, state’s second largest city increases restrictions on homeless encampments

Spokane, Wash.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington’s second largest city has updated it’s restrictions on trash, waste and sleeping on public lands in an effort to curb its homelessness problem.

On Monday, the Spokane City Council voted 6-to-1 to adopt new legislation that increases regulations on all city parks, public lands and conservation areas. The laws more thoroughly prohibit camping in parks  and restrict other uses of public lands.

City officials told Q13 News the laws were an update to the city’s old “Transient Shelter Ordinance,” which narrowly defined homeless encampments and made them difficult to disperse. Previous rules made it hard to enforce no-camping rules, officials said, by narrowly defining structures like tents and encampments. New laws target things associated with camping, such as setting fires on public properties, disposing of mass litter, and sleeping outside, even without a shelter.

Camping on public lands remains a criminal misdemeanor, but the new regulations encourage officers to remand offenders to a community court, which would offer help, instead of issuing citations, officials said.

Proponents called the move a positive step in criminal justice reform.

"The language in the new ordinances are also a good example of positive criminal justice reform, because it only applies to illegal camping when there aren't sufficient shelter beds available as a safe option," a pamphlet distributed by the city said. "And it focuses on referring individuals to services rather than taking them to jail."

Critics said it didn't protect vulnerable populations, the Spokesman-Review reported.

The law change on the east side of the state comes as Seattle battles with its own homelessness crisis. Camping without a permit is also illegal in Seattle, and camping on private property could be considered trespassing.

On public property; Seattle approaches most homeless encampments with the "clean-up" process, and people living in an unauthorized area are typically given 72-hour notice to move.

Seattle's rules on encampments were first created in 2008, and revisited in the spring of 2017.