Sidran's Piss-Poor Logic
Tent City Helps the Homeless; Civility Laws Punish Them
Sidran proudly compares his civility laws--laws that prohibit peeing, laws that allow police to ban certain people from public parks, laws to keep people from sitting on sidewalks, laws against agressive panhandling--to a code of conduct created by residents of Tent City, the roaming homeless encampment. The analogy is politically clever because it implies that homeless people, the people targeted by Sidran's civility ordinances, agree with Sidran's policies. "The code of conduct for Tent City," Sidran said at the Westin, "compiled by and for that homeless encampment, [says] no drugs, no alcohol, no weapons... no aggressive, obnoxious behavior."
For starters, Sidran's enthusiasm for Tent City is politically cynical. As city attorney, Sidran prosecuted some former Tent City residents for illegal camping at the greenbelt under Dr. Rizal Park. (He got nowhere: Municipal Judge Judith Hightower threw out the case on the grounds that the city wasn't doing enough to actually house the city's homeless.)
More important, comparing the city's civility ordinances to Tent City's code of conduct is illogical. At Tent City--now at its 18th location, a church on Northeast 125th Street--the residents have a space to sleep and a place to go to the bathroom. In fact, that's the whole point of the encampment. "Seattle lacks adequate indoor shelter or housing," the Tent City code states. "Those without indoor shelter or housing have no choice but to sleep outside; in cars, alleys, doorways, bus stops... parks." Tent City has been set up as a temporary solution.
Rules against loitering or peeing on the ground at Tent City make sense because Tent City provides beds and bathrooms for homeless people to use. There are appropriate places for the residents to gather and relieve themselves in Tent City. Not so citywide. Sidran's rules against sidewalk sitting and urinating in public target homeless men and women with no place to sit or relieve themselves other than in public.
"Here we have rules like Sidran's because we're not on the sidewalk, we're off the sidewalk," says Gary, a 47-year-old resident at Tent City. "We have areas that we can sit down in. But downtown, they don't have any designated areas with benches and seats."
"We don't allow panhandling here because people don't need to panhandle here," adds Josh Miller, 26, another Tent City resident. "There are resources here for people."
The weakest aspect of Sidran's analogy, though, is this: We looked at Tent City code side by side with Sidran's civility ordinances, and with the arguable exception of Sidran's ban on "aggressive" panhandling, his bevy of civility laws in no way echoes Tent City's codes against violence, weapons, racial slurs, or trespassing. Indeed, the city already has laws against criminal behaviors. Sidran's "civility" laws only add a targeted layer of city code that makes it illegal to be homeless. Tent City, on the other hand, makes it bearable to be homeless.
Finally, when you examine Tent City's code of conduct in detail, Sidran's disingenuous analogy between the encampment and the city at large becomes even more ridiculous. For instance, Tent City's code forbids men and women from sleeping together. Does Sidran favor a citywide ordinance to that effect?