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Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents

Yesterday in the Human Services and Public Health Committee, Council discussed the “Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents” ordinance, and I’m writing to give an update on the Council deliberations so far. Many of the comments I’ve been hearing in the last few weeks continue to be reflected in the conversation in Committee. Some of the major points of discussion include:

  • The fact that we continue to have people sleeping outdoors is not acceptable. There was widespread consensus that the legislation is not meant to be permanent, but rather reinforce the idea that homelessness should be temporary. While we are working on more stable shelter and housing solutions, we need to figure out how to respond to the population that is sleeping outdoors with nowhere else to go. That’s why I support a sunset clause to the legislation, meaning it will no longer be in effect after a certain period of time.
  • The City can do a better job of transitioning people into permanent housing. The Mayor’s office has recently come out with proposal to create systemic change in the way we respond to homelessness, called Pathways Home. As we explore this further, I look forward to continuing to work with our Human Service Department and service providers to meet the challenges of housing our unsheltered residents. But even the proposed strategies, in the best case scenario, will take 2 years to fully implement. The question remains of what to do in the meantime.
  • While sleeping outdoors is not inherently safe, there are some spaces that pose grave, immediate threats to safety, or places with hazardous conditions, that are not suitable for any period of time. The Committee spent a considerable amount of time defining a categorically “unsuitable” or unsafe location, and it seems like there is agreement that sidewalks, schools, areas near high volumes of traffic, and active spaces in parks, are not suitable. There was also agreement that we need to create the opportunity for community to weigh in on what is unsuitable or unsafe in their specific neighborhoods. And conversely, we need input on where there are suitable spaces for unsheltered residents while we work to transition people into appropriate shelters or housing.
  • Criminal law will continue to be enforced. Nothing in the ordinance prevents the Seattle Police Department from removing or arresting people who they believe are involved in criminal activity.

Thanks to all who have been engaged in trying to help address the ongoing crisis on homelessness. The next Council Committee discussion will be Wednesday, September 28th, at 2pm in City Hall. Please feel free to reach out to my office via email at mike.obrien@seattle.gov, or phone at 206-684-8800 with questions or concerns.

In Community,

Mike

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