The Compassion with Boundaries program — an outreach effort aimed at addressing the growing issue of homelessness and drug addiction in Lynnwood — was the focus of the Lynnwood City Council’s summit meeting March 4.
The council’s annual summit gives councilmembers a chance to discuss a range of topics — from procedural matters to big-picture issues — that they don’t have time for during regular weekly business meetings. The discussion March 4 expanded on a previous Compassion with Boundaries presentation by Lynnwood police social worker Ashley Dawson at the council’s Feb. 20 meeting.
Though the Compassion with Boundaries program does highlight homelessness as an issue, Council President Ben Goodwin said the focus shouldn’t be solely on those who are homeless. Goodwin said there are others — like those who are struggling with addiction and mental illness — who could benefit.
“While it’s an important area and an important subject within the Compassion with Boundaries realm, it’s not the only issue,” he said.
Goodwin said the council can help by focusing on two areas — leading with compassion and helping to provide the boundaries required to make the city safe for all of its residents. The easiest to address are boundaries specific to the law, like drug-related theft, but then there are the issues not mentioned in the city’s municipal code. These include discarded hypodermic needles and human waste in parks and loitering near businesses.
“How do we want those issues to be dealt with?” Goodwin asked. “And how can we do that under the umbrella of Compassion with Boundaries?”
An example of this is a recent ordinance proposed to regulate those who aggressively interfere with pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Council Vice President Christine Frizzell said the focus should be to balance the needs of the city’s residents.
“Citizens have every right to take their kids to the park and it be a safe and welcoming environment,” she said.
Councilmember Ruth Ross said it is important that any future regulations not disproportionately target the homeless and create an opportunity to discriminate against them.
“I want to make sure we don’t fall into the old patterns of vagrancy laws, because those gave people the opportunity to kick people out of town,” she said.
Councilmember Ian Cotton said the program could be addressed at a department level, meaning departments like the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department would develop their own plan for how to address the issue of needles and human waste in parks. Cotton said the department could potentially develop a regulation stating entering the park means agreeing to keep it clean of hazardous waste.
“I think these are discussions for individual departments,” he said. “What does Compassion with Boundaries look like in that department?”
Councilmember George Hurst said he did not agree with the idea of Parks and Recreation staff being responsible for cleaning hazardous waste and suggest the idea of inmate clean-up crews from the Lynnwood Jail. Goodwin said the police department had previously not been able to establish an inmate cleanup crew due to lack of custody officers. However, now that the police department is fully staffed, the idea could be revisited.
Councilmember Shannon Sessions suggested the council provide a framework — like signage posted around the city labeled with expectations for public behavior — to help departments like the police department.
“We can say ‘Did you see the sign?’” she said. “That way it’s a tool to help (police) do their jobs.”
Signage would allow the city to state expectations for residents, as well as showing others something is being done, Sessions said. Councilmember Shirley Sutton agreed signage would could be beneficial, as well as needle-disposal stations in public restrooms.
“We have to make something they can utilize,” she said.
Hurst said he has faith the city could be an example for the region by expanding resources like the potential Rodeo Inn Motel housing project and proposed Lynnwood Community Justice Center. He also said these projects could inspire others to reach out and help make the city better for everyone
“If we can build on the excitement of people wanting to contribute to this program, we could do it for other programs,” he said.
— Story and photos by Cody Sexton