Join the city for a virtual town hall on homelessness

Next week the city will host a virtual Auburn Town Hall focusing on homelessness in the community and what the city is doing to address the problem.

The meeting is from 6 to 8 p.m., May 13, and the city will take questions via Zoom. Webinar ID: 913 6629 6955, on Facebook Live and the city’s YouTube channel. Interested parties may also join by phone: 253-215-8782/877 853 5257 (Toll Free).

Of late, there has been lot of high-level city talk and action about homelessness, and it is likely Auburn residents may have questions.

Indeed, on Monday April 19, the Auburn City Council approved changes to the city’s ordinance against illegal camping on city property, making it possible for Police Officers and Outreach Programs Administrator Kent Hay to arrest scoff laws and charge them with a misdemeanor, a criminal offense.

The amendment is narrowly aimed at the minority of homeless people who refuse to accept the city’s offer of services. such as shelter, and housing and drug and alcohol treatment programs designed to help them out of homelessness and better their lives, and who have time and again refused to leave city property when ordered to do so.

Until the council vote, this offense could only earn law breakers a civil infraction and a monetary fine; from now in, it’s a criminal offense, to be exercised, however, on a night when shelter is available and refused, and only as a last resort, which Community Development Director Jeff Tate said the city expects to do in very few cases, if at all.

The change is keyed to the advent of the Auburn Community Court later this month. When it is up and running, this diversion court will offer all people, not just the homeless, who have committed all sorts of low-level misdemeanors and first-time-in-their-lives offenders an alternative to the regular court system and jail.

Should they complete the programs a community court judge has laid out, they can clear permanently clear the misdeed from their records. Should they fail to do so, the judge will remand them to the regular court, which doesn’t offer such programs.

City staff put a hard-to-ignore edge in their request for the new powers, pointing to severe environmental damage and financial hardships the city is incurring by allowing homeless encampments to proliferate.