Olympia bans camping on city-owned property

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Troubling surveillance images prompted the city to ban homeless camps on city property.

Olympia's City Hall, just 2 years old, is an inviting space. It has recently been serving as a homeless encampment at night.

Pictures from surveillance cameras show people lined up across the entrance to the building in sleeping bags.

"We may have had sex offenders. We may have had felons. We don't know, because we can't screen them," said Olympia City Manager Steve Hall.

On weekdays, a dozen or more people start staking out their territory before City Hall shut down for the night, according to Hall.

And photos document the trouble. One shows a person urinating. Another shows urine and feces left behind.

Hall says the issue came to a head when one of the camper's dogs attacked someone.

"One of our employees was attacked by a dog in the morning when she was coming to work," he said. "The dog lunges at her, pulls her, tries to pull her to the ground, rips her coat."

The Olympia City council decided to take action, and passed an ordinance banning camping on all city-owned property.

The new ordinance, which takes effect Feb. 8, bans people from camping out on city property; however, it does not stop them from taking up residence overnight on a city sidewalk. The latter will still be allowed, at least between midnight and 7 a.m.

The city is working with Family Support Center to renovate the old Smith Building into a shelter, which would provide 62 beds but not until next year.

In the meantime, the city says it is working with agencies that serve the homeless, trying to figure out ways to provide more shelter beds.