Sheldon measure addresses one of the stickiest problems of homelessness

OLYMPIA – Sen. Tim Sheldon is stepping into the one of the stickiest problems of homelessness – human waste in the streets.

Sheldon, D-Potlatch, this week introduced Senate Bill 6283, which would require state regulation of the urban-camping trend that has swept Seattle and other Puget Sound cities, lining the streets with dilapidated RVs and campers. Sheldon’s bill would require their occupants to apply for discharge permits from the state Department of Ecology.

“All of us in Olympia are concerned with the cleanliness of our waters and the important health benefits of good sanitation,” Sheldon said. “All I can say is that if my shellfish farm on Hood Canal looked anything like the mess I see on the streets of Seattle, the Department of Ecology would be on me in a New York minute.”

The measure would direct the state’s pollution-control agency to treat unauthorized curbside campers as “point-source dischargers,” just like factories and sewage treatment plants. When occupants apply for state permits, regulators could then determine if facilities are adequate, whether that particular public roadway is an appropriate place to deposit human waste, or if there are better streets available.

The measure applies only to cities that abut Puget Sound – a reflection of the high priority lawmakers have placed on Puget Sound water quality, Sheldon explains.

“It’s the problem nobody wants to talk about,” Sheldon said. “You look at Olympia’s new downtown campground, under the bridge at Capitol Lake, and you have to wonder what’s running into the Sound. Even if those dilapidated RVs parked in Seattle have privies, we need to make sure they function properly and are pumped out in compliance with state rules. And if cities don’t wish to take action, I am sure our state’s pollution-control agency would be delighted to take over and regulate.”

Under Sheldon’s legislation, group permits could be issued when urban campers choose to occupy an entire street. If the owner of an unauthorized vehicle cannot be located, the city would be required to apply for a permit on his or her behalf.

“Some might be concerned that state regulation could discourage this urban camping trend,” Sheldon acknowledged. “But I see it as a matter of equity. Urban campers deserve as much regulatory protection as everyone else. Anything less doesn’t smell right to me.”