More encampments? Really?

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Yesterday in the Housing, Human Services, Heath and Culture  Committee, Councilmembers Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien, and I voted to pass Council Bill 117791 out of committee.

This bill clarifies who can operate these sites. The City will be out of the business of operating encampments, allowing non-profits or a private party experienced with running shelters or low income housing to provide transitional encampments on safe and separated sites.

A transitional encampment under CB 117791 may be permitted for up to a year at a site located outside of residential areas, These zones include all zoned Industrial zones, Downtown, SM, NC2, NC3, C1, or photo

The entity applying for a permit will be the host and will be responsible for the health and safety of the people within the camp.  If the encampment is permitted on city-owned land, the operator will also be required to have insurance and indemnify the City from claims and risks of loss.

To be approved, an encampment must at a minimum have running water and toilets.  Preferably electricity will be available as well, but that is not a requirement.  No more than 100 people may be in an encampment at a time, and a total of three hundred persons may be in transitional encampments city-wide at any given time.

Man with pet on streetMany have asked about faith-based organizations. Religious institutions are not impacted by this legislation.  Under our State and Federal Constitutions, religious institutions may offer food and housing to those in need and the City has other rules that apply.

With all of that said, it is important to note that encampments are not the end themselves.  Offering a pathway to permanent housing in healthful situations is the objective.

I understand that transitional encampments may not be many people’s first choice for housing, but encampments do offer value to those who call them home. Since we do not have sufficient emergency housing to shelter all who need it, encampments address an important need.


People can reside where collectively they feel safer, where they have a dependable place to sleep at night, where they can live with their family, where they can keep their pets, and where they can leave their belongings.


I believe Mother Teresa was right:  Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.  In transitional encampments, people report they find community they seek.

This issue of encampments is not new. It is not new to the city, nor is it new to me.

I have written previously about encampments.  See: Dignity Village; Nickelsville. I have visited encampments in both Seattle and Portland.  I have volunteered my time and donated personal resources. I have cut people’s hair at the encampments and helped people prepare for job interviews.  In short, I have gotten to know many who call an encampment home.

And based on my experience, here’s what I’ve learned from those living in transitional encampments:

  • For some, encampments are the only positive community experience they have.
  • Most want affordable housing of their own; many are on the waiting lists at agencies such as Plymouth Housing, LIHI, and Seattle Housing Authority.
  • Many plan to move on when they have saved money for an apartment and security deposit or get into subsidized housing.
  • Some have jobs; others are looking.

You may have noticed that I use the word “transitional” throughout. That is key.  Few people believe that community found in soggy tents is sufficient or appropriate for the long run.  I think we can do better. And we must.

My goal is to direct city money in a coordinated, aligned way to help people move off the streets, out of tents and into decent housing.  Once people get the services they need and are housed, they have a chance of moving forward.  For many that is the first step on a pathway to finding employment as well.On the bench

As for people currently living in Nickelsville, on Monday, June 24th, the City Council passed C.B. 117815, which allocated $500,000 to support people to move into housing and get the services they need.  We are contracting with Union Gospel Mission, and the outreach work starts now.

For the future, I am committed to prioritize our substantial city resources (we provide over $30 million each year) for individualized housing and services that will help people move forward.

We’ve learned that connecting people through individual case management to housing, health care, and human services unique to their needs has a positive impact not only on the person but for the economic health of our city as well.

We can learn lessons from other big cities that provide shelter and services for those who need it.  The effort is aimed at individuals so they aren’t left begging for basics.  The result: evidence shows that street violence is reduced and business improves too.

I invite you to work with me and with our city departments, our contractors, our local businesses, labor unions and neighborhood associations, our social service agencies and anyone who has a good idea to prioritize outreach and services and housing options for those who need it.Put yourself in my place

We are a rich city.  I want us to be a model city caring for those who most need it.