Aberdeen considers prohibiting sitting, lying down on sidewalks

In a move to discourage loitering by homeless people in downtown Aberdeen, the City of Aberdeen is considering an ordinance to restrict the times people are allowed to sit or lie down on public sidewalks. Last week, the city council passed the first reading of the ordinance, which would prohibit anyone from sitting or lying down on the sidewalk from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“It’s a matter of making downtown more comfortable for everybody,” said Council President Tawni Andrews, who proposed the new law. “It’s not just the appearance, but also so people feel comfortable walking on the street. … I’m just trying to give police officers the tools they need.”

Andrews said she was inspired to suggest the ordinance after looking at a similar policy passed in Marysville two decades ago, and after hearing from business owners and other city residents at a homelessness workshop in February.

At the workshop, several business owners complained that their business is hindered by homeless people loitering for long periods outside their downtown stores.

If the ordinance is passed, anyone who is sitting or lying down in the downtown area can be told by a police officer that they need to move. Failure to do so would mean a civil — not a criminal — violation and result in a fine of up to $50, or community service requirement if they cannot pay that amount.

Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson said he would expect police to make warnings in most cases before issuing a fine.

In the ordinance, there are several exceptions to the lying down prohibition, such as those who lie down due to a medical emergency and those sitting while waiting for a bus. Public benches and chairs are also exempt from the policy, and people sitting on them for long periods would still be allowed to do so.

The ordinance has geographic boundaries extend as far west as Safeway, and as far north as some parts of First Street, as part of the official downtown parking and business improvement district.

At the Aberdeen city council meeting, there was a mix of those who were in favor or against the ordinance, but a common concern was that some homeless people would move into other residential areas after leaving the downtown storefronts.