It’s already illegal to be in North Bend’s city parks after dark. Violating that law can earn a civil infraction with a $100 fine.
Now, camping in the parks is a criminal misdemeanor, which can carry a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail.
The North Bend City Council passed an ordinance Jan. 15 banning all camping on public property, including in parks, under bridges and on rights of way. The camping ban follows several complaints from residents and a volunteer group working in the area.
“It’s really to give us all the tools we need to make your parks safe,” Londi Lindell, city administrator, told the city council when they approved the legislation.
The ordinance passed unanimously with no comment from the public.
Reached by phone later, Lindell said the city would not comment on the new ordinance. The mayor and city councilmembers did not return calls for comment, but North Bend Police Chief Mark Toner did.
Toner said he worries what will happen to the people who have camped in North Bend for years. Because it’s already illegal for them to camp on private property, homeless people may be pushed even further outside of city limits.
“I am curious and cautious to see how this plays out, what impact it will have on the community and the people who are homeless,” Toner said. “We don’t want to cause more unnecessary hardships.”
The city council began discussing the camping ban in May and continued to receive complaints from residents over the summer and fall.
One resident complained to the city that people were camping along the Snoqualmie River South Park across from the Pour House Bar & Grill, 330 North Bend Way.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, an environmental organization, temporarily halted work in the area after volunteers witnessed people in the park carrying machetes, smoking marijuana and exchanging money.
Toner said some of the complaints were unfairly lumped on the homeless population. He said many of the campers are long-time residents of the Snoqualmie Valley.
In 2012 there were more confrontations between housed residents and people camping in public parks, Toner said. He and local volunteers met Nov. 7
to work out a solution and opened an emergency winter shelter at North Bend Community Church Dec. 23.
The church has space for 40 men, women and children. About 25 come each night for a meal cooked by volunteers, and about 15 people stay overnight.
The group raised $43,000 for a full-time staff, enough to keep the shelter open until March 7.
Shelter organizers are deciding how to help the shelter’s clients when that funding dries up, said Paula Matthysse, one of the shelter’s volunteers.
If the shelter closes and people camp in parks, Toner will issue them warnings, saving the harsher enforcement for repeat offenders.
Since he considered arresting campers overkill, Toner said he would try to avoid it.