Seattle Police Issue $1,025 Littering Ticket to Homeless Man

Seattle police again this week issued a pricey ticket to someone unlikely to be able to pay.

Police on Monday contacted a man living in a tent near Green Lake and gave him a $1,025 ticket for littering.

The man and several other people arrived the day before on the site, a greenbelt near Green Lake, with the help of community organizer Matthew Lang and others from two neighborhood action councils, Lang told SeattlePI.

Lang, who wasn’t present when the ticket was issued but who spoke with the man afterward, said police pointed to the man’s tent and other belongings stacked nearby as signs of litter.

Police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb told SeattlePI on Wednesday that the ticket would be canceled and the matter was being referred to the Navigation Team, a group comprised of specially trained police and outreach workers who try to connect homeless people with services and shelter. The officers who issued the ticket weren’t connected to the team.

Calls and emails to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s spokesman for homeless response, Will Lemke, were not returned.

A photograph of the ticket shows it was issued at 10:41 p.m. and clearly denotes the penalty of $1,025. Whitcomb didn’t comment as to what drew police to the area.

The ticket isn’t the first reported case of officers issuing tickets to homeless persons who clearly can’t pay them.

In December, Seattle police officers issued trespassing tickets — carrying a $500 penalty — to several people who had been camped in the park at Ballard Commons. Those officers also weren’t associated with the Navigation Team. Had they been Navigation Team members, they would have known residents at the site were preparing to leave ahead of an announced sweep.

Speaking previously, Lemke said the tickets would be unenforceable, issued on a municipal code not intended for fining individuals. But the people who received them didn’t know that, and could still be deterred from seeking services for fear they’ll be held liable for the tickets.

“Like the city’s sweeps, ticketing individuals for living and keeping their belongings outside wrongly criminalizes homelessness,” said Doug Honig, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, in January. “And what sense does it make to ticket people who don’t have the means of paying the ticket?”

It’s a question the city has yet to answer.

Last year’s “One Night County” tallied more than 8,000 people homeless in Seattle, with nearly 4,000 of them without shelter. The city will spend more than $63 million this year on programs for homelessness.

The city has made it clear publicly that its goal is to help people experiencing homelessness get the services and support they need to get into housing. Mayor Durkan last month joined several other local officials in celebrating the opening of a new supportive-housing complex in South Seattle. She has been outspoken in her support of increasing the supply of housing and shelters in order to get people off of Seattle streets.

And yet, city officials have declined to discuss the recent tickets in any detail. In January, Seattle police declined to comment at all on the December tickets, and Lemke had little to say other than that the tickets wouldn’t amount to any penalties.