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Cities ban sidewalk sitting, but does it help or hurt?

Flickr Creative Commons / (
Two people experiencing homelessness in Seattle's University District.

The city of Monroe is enforcing a new ordinance that prohibits people from sitting or lying on sidewalks, joining a growing number of cities in Washington creating similar laws in the name of public safety.

Monroe’s ordinance was recommended by the city's police department. The deputy police chief told the Everett Herald it’s meant to create a safe pedestrian environment.

But critics say ordinances like this simply criminalize behavior that’s part of daily living.

“Sit, stand, sleep, receive food, protect yourself from the elements ... All of these are sorts of things that none of us can forego for very long and survive,” said Sara Rankin, director of the Homeless Rights Project at Seattle University.

In 2015, Rankin and her law students analyzed local rules across the state that prohibit similar behavior. What they found was that the laws actually make homelessness worse. Penalties might start with a civil infraction, but over time the infractions build up and mutate into a misdemeanor.

“And once someone is saddled with a misdemeanor, that means they are no long eligible to avail themselves of a number of different benefits and services that are actually designed to lift them out of homelessness,” Rankin said.

Year started with KUOW: 1994