Temporary Homeless Encampments

Temporary Homeless Encampments

(Draft Ordinance 15-030)
On November 5, 2015, the City Council is scheduled to consider Draft Ordinance 15-030, which would establish regulations for Temporary Homeless Encampments within the City of Des Moines.  Currently, there are no City regulations regulating such encampments.

There are many homeless persons in our region that are in need of shelter and other services that are not being provided by the state and local governments.  In many communities, religious organizations play an important role in providing needed services to the homeless, including the provision of shelter upon property owned by the religious organization.

Establishing temporary use provisions that allow temporary homeless encampments enable religious institutions in our community to perform a valuable public service that, for many, offers a temporary, stop-gap solution to the larger social problem of increasing numbers of homeless persons.

Draft Ordinance No. 15-030 provides guidance in regulating temporary homeless encampments while providing the City with broad discretion to protect the health and safety of our citizens.


In 2010, the Washington State Legislature passed Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1956 (ESHB 1956), codified as RCW 36.01.290 which authorized religious organizations to host temporary encampments for homeless persons on property owned or controlled by a religious organization.
RCW 35.21.915 prohibits a city or town from enacting any ordinance or regulation, or take any other action that:
  • Imposes conditions other than those necessary to protect public health and safety and that do not substantially burden the decisions or actions of a religious organization regarding the location of housing or shelter for homeless persons on property owned by the religious organization;
  • Requires a religious organization to obtain insurance pertaining to the liability of a municipality with respect to homeless persons housed on property owned by a religious organization or otherwise requires the religious organization to indemnify the municipality against such liability; or
  • Imposes permit fees in excess of the actual costs associated with the review and approval of the required permit applications.
On June 23, 2014, Washington Cities Insurance Authority completed their 2014 Annual Review and Audit of the City of Des Moines’ land use practices and one of the audit findings related to Des Moines compliance with legislation on Temporary Encampments for the Homeless, pursuant to RCW 35.21.915, RCW 35A.21.360, and RCW 36.01.290.

Staff worked closely with the City Council Finance and Economic Development Committee on the development of Draft Ordinance 15-030.  In preparing Draft Ordinance No. 15-030, staff reviewed information from other agencies that have dealt with temporary encampments in the past including King County and the Cities of Seattle, Redmond, and Sammamish.  The draft ordinance would amend DMMC 18.01.050 to add new definitions, and add new sections to Chapter 18.170 Temporary Uses.  Specific amendments address frequency and duration of the use, noticing requirements, and options for modifying standards.

The Finance and Economic Development Committee provided guidance on Draft Ordinance No. 15-030 to ensure the regulations are as stringent as possible within the confines of State law.  Some of the requirements are summarized below:
  • Managing agency requirements:
    • Applying for a temporary encampment permit at least 75 days before any occupancy by the temporary encampment.
    • Compliance with Washington State and City codes concerning drinking water connections, human waste, solid waste disposal, electrical systems, and fire resistant materials.
    • Obtaining verifiable identification from prospective encampment camper.
    • Obtaining sex offender and warrant checks from the appropriate agency and ensuring Des Moines Police Department requirements related to identified sex offenders or prospective residents with warrants are met.
    • Authorizing daily inspections by the City and/or Health Department to check compliance with the standards for temporary homeless encampments.
    • Requiring the managing agency and temporary encampment sponsor to sign a hold harmless agreement for the temporary encampment.
  • Language that gives the City some authority to further limit the number of residents as site conditions dictate.
  • Code of Conduct requirements related to trespass, littering, sex offender, and fire inspections.
  • Code enforcement actions that the City can take if it is determined that there has been a violation of any condition of approval.
On October 5, 2015, Notice of the November 5, 2015 Public Hearing was issued, along with a SEPA Determination of Non-significance (DNS).  Comments on the SEPA DNS are due to the City by October 20, 2015, and any appeals of the DNS must be received by October 30, 2015.

Additional Information

Notice of November 5, 3015 Public Hearing
SEPA Determination of Non-significance
Draft Ordinance 15-030