A bold step to help address homelessness

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As we reach the end of the ten-year time frame set out in the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, there are still more than 2,300 people on our streets each night in Seattle. These figures are especially heart-wrenching during these colder, wetter winter months in Seattle, but the fact is we simply don’t have enough shelter or low-income housing capacity to house very person who is homeless. To address this challenge, we need to solutions that meet people where they are at, provide a safe place to be at night and offer services to support people getting back on their feet.

So today I stood with my Council colleagues Nick Licata, Sally Bagshaw and Bruce Harrell in support of Mayor Ed Murray as he unveiled a proposal that helps create more safe options for people to lay their head at night. The Mayor announced the opening of an additional 50 shelter beds in Downtown and another 15 beds in Capital Hill specifically for homeless youth. Critically, the Mayor also announced new encampment legislation that builds off previous legislation developed under the leadership of Councilmember Licata. This proposal allows for regulated encampments on private and city lands and couples that “safe place to be” with access to services and supports that people experiencing homelessness might need to get back on their feet. I am thankful the Mayor brought this proposal forward and I look forward to getting the support of Council in this bill.Encampment legislation announcement

Since joining the Council, I have participated in the One Night Count of our unsheltered population three times, and I am getting ready to spend another night outside doing it again next week.  I’ve gone out with Heroes for the Homeless to deliver fresh socks and warm cup coffee to people living in their vehicles. And I have met with numerous people experiencing homeless, including sadly many young people in our city who are forced from their homes under often tragic circumstances.  All of these experiences have led me to become an advocate for more solutions and opportunities for homeless people in Seattle.

It is why I helped start the Road to Housing program, which helps people living in their vehicles get back into housing and utilizes a very similar model as this encampment legislation: safe place to be, access to services, and the support someone needs to get back on their feet and into housing. That program continues to demonstrate this model can work, and I am eager to support a similar approach in this legislation.

Encampments are not the magic bullet to ending homelessness in our city, but they do offer a partial solution to people in dire straits by giving them a safe place for the time being. I don’t think any of us up here want to see a tent in an encampment as anybody’s final destination either, but it can be a stop along the way on the path to greater stability, especially when we pair that place to be with access to a case worker and some support services for the individual.  We want to see people moving through encampments on their way to housing, and I believe that’s what most folks in encampments want too.

This encampment proposal is about meeting people where they are at and hopefully working together towards a path to greater stability. It also expands options for someone who wants to hold on to their possessions or live with a partner or a pet.

This proposal also helps address concerns that neighbors and businesses raise about homeless people sleeping in doorways or in unregulated encampments in parks or other public spaces. I strongly believe that if we want to tell folks “you can’t be here” we also need to say where you can be, and this proposal gives us more options.

This proposal will be transmitted to Council shortly and will run through the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee that I chair (and that my colleague Nick Licata also sits on). City Council will want to dig into the details of the proposal, no doubt, but I’m hopeful that my Council colleagues will join me in embracing this progressive, pragmatic approach to homelessness in Seattle.