On February 16, 2021, during their regularly scheduled meeting, the Mercer Island City Council voted in favor of Ordinance No. 21C-02, Use of Mercer Island Public Property, 6-1. This ordinance institutes a $1,000 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail, for all people found to be camping, sleeping, or otherwise “loitering” on Mercer Island public property.
In an attempt to avoid being in direct violation of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision on Martin v. Boise (2019), which makes criminalizing the use of public property while homeless persons await empty shelter space illegal, Mercer Island City Council added a provision to only enforce the law if there is shelter available for the people experiencing homeless. Not only does this shelter not exist, it also forces them to interact with police officers who have an abhorrent record of killing people experiencing homelessness and mental health crises.
Homelessness is a regional problem that must be tackled together. Unfortunately, despite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that Mercer Island is one of the richest areas in the country, they are determined to pretend the problem doesn’t exist instead of listening to the providers and experts on the ground about strategies that will actually work. It is clear that this ordinance was passed not, as they claim, for the good of the people experiencing homelessness, but rather out of an unbelievable lack of concern for their fellow humans.
King County Young Democrats applauds the high schoolers that spoke out against this ordinance. We hope that they continue to lead with their compassion and rationality.
If you feel the need to let the Mercer Island City Council know your thoughts on this egregious ordinance, you can contact them here.