Earlier today I sent the following e-mail to people who’ve written me about homeless encampments:
Thank you for writing to me about proposed Council Bill 118794. Like you, I care deeply how the City manages public land for use of the general public as well as how our policies impact our ability to provide shelter and housing to people who are living outside.
Two substitute bills will be discussed on Friday, October 14, at 9:30 am in Councilmember Sally Bagshaw’s Human Services and Public Health Committee. Please see here for the materials. The work we have been doing on this legislation has been ongoing with multiple business, neighborhood, and community stakeholders since the proposed bill was introduced on September 6. Here is a good description of the two bill versions and our efforts to date. There is still much more work to be done before this bill is ready for a vote. Consequently, I will not support a vote in Friday’s 9:30 a.m. Human Services and Public Health Committee.
In previous correspondence, I explained the reasons why I decided to sponsor Council Bill 118794. One of those reasons is that because this year alone, the City has removed people from more than 500 encampments across our city and at least 95% of the time, people return to those locations. This includes chronic public camping, usually in out-of-the-way undeveloped areas, in more than 80 city parks. To me, this means we desperately needed to find a way to do things differently. Cities all across the country are struggling with this issue as the number of families and individuals experiencing homelessness is increasing because cities are not getting the state and federal support they need to create affordable homes quickly or to stop more people from becoming homeless due to rising rents (that, under State Law, Seattle can’t regulate), health care crises, family violence, substance use disorders, and other causes.
Today I want to explain my goals for new policies to guide the City on how it addresses these issues. Those goals are continue how to:
- Better manage public property and respond to the crisis of public homelessness with the objective of having fewer people living outside in our community
- Ensure that our current encampment removal practices are not barriers to people accessing housing and shelter resources.
- Address the legitimate and immediate public health and safety issues impacting both housed and unhoused residents in our communities.
From the day the bill was introduced I’ve been clear that significant amendments were necessary to secure my vote.
As I have said there is much still work that must be done. I want to share with you my assessment of the current conditions in our city, and my analysis of how our current policies exacerbate the impacts of homelessness on public space and conflict with our urgent goal to help homeless people into housing and shelter. I believe if we have a shared understanding of the current situation and how the City is addressing these issues, and if we analyze how the city’s current practices are ineffective and conflict with our shared goal to reduce the numbers of people who are homeless and unsheltered, we can work towards common sense solutions that reasonable people can agree on. It would, in retrospect, have been valuable to engage in this conversation about current conditions and impediments to shared policy goals more robustly before this bill was proposed. However, the bill was introduced in the immediate aftermath of an important Seattle Times expose showing that the City’s current framework is generating “Chaos, Trash & Tears,” and that current practices do not even adhere to supposed City policy on encampment removal. There was and still is compelling evidence that the current system requires change.
Here is a little more detail about my 3 goals for new policy to guide management of public property as listed above.
GOAL 1: Better manage public property with the objective of having fewer people living outside
There are 619 known encampments today, on city owned land, with only vague, ineffective written guidelines for how the city defines and prioritizes its work associated with cleaning areas, or removing people from specific locations. The Multi-Departmental Administrative Rules (MDARS) developed in 2008, the written encampment protocols that the City uses today, treat all kinds of city-owned property alike and makes no clear distinction between locations that are especially unsafe, property that is in active use by the public, or property that is neither. City staff have repeatedly said that they do not know how to prioritize their work, and the harm done by current practices is well-documented.
My goal – in identifying some types of property as unsafe and other types of property as unsuitable – is to provide a consistent and rational way for the City to prioritize work, in order to remove people from areas that are unsafe and unsuitable. Prioritizing the City’s work this way, does not at all suggest that other property that is neither defined as unsafe or unsuitable is in fact suitable for public camping. No public property is truly suitable for long-term living; but to be responsible, the City must first and foremost prioritize removing encampments from locations that we define as unsafe or unsuitable.
GOAL 2: Ensure that City practices managing public property are not barriers to people accessing housing and shelter resources.
We must create new policies to reduce the numbers of encampment locations by identifying and enforcing the rules against camping at unsafe and unsuitable locations and focusing outreach resources to a smaller number of encampment locations that are lower priority for removal because they are neither unsafe nor unsuitable.
Many of you who have written to me have said that permanent housing is the answer to homelessness and we should support the Mayor’s Pathways Home initiative. I certainly whole-heartedly agree that housing is the solution. As context for our efforts, there are approximately 2,942 people sleeping outside in Seattle every night who are unable to access our community’s shelter and transitional housing system, where another approximately 3,000 people sleep each night. Further, there are over 45,000 Seattle households at risk of homelessness because they are paying more than half their income for housing. There are 2,500 households on the waiting list for the Seattle Housing Authority’s 3-year long waiting list. The City, through the voter-approved Housing Levy, builds or preserves approximately 307 low-income housing units each year. We are doing good work through the generosity of the voting public, but the need is still greater than our current capacity to meet it.
The Mayor’s Pathways Home Initiative is a roadmap for implementing ambitious and optimistic recommendations that say that even with all of these other pressing and unmet housing needs we can get the 2,942 people who are unsheltered inside – and within a single year.
I believe firmly that the way that the City currently addresses encampments on public property is an impediment to meeting our very ambitious, optimistic, and important new goal to get everyone outside inside within a year. If the City is every day moving people from one place to another, our outreach services are not able to connect with people and stay engaged with them for the period of time necessary to access appropriate housing resources. We simply cannot successfully implement Pathways Home and provide housing resources to people who we are forcing to move back and forth. In addition, by ensuring that people are not camping in areas that are unsafe and unsuitable, the sheer numbers of encampment locations will reduce and as a result we can focus outreach resources to a smaller number of encampment locations.
GOAL 3: Address the immediate public health and safety issues impacting both sheltered and unsheltered residents.
No one working on this legislation intends to create a “right to camp” much less a “right to camp anywhere.” The reality is that people are and will, for the near term, be living outdoors and that no one has a magic wand to change that reality overnight. I believe that for public land designated unsafe or unsuitable the City must be able to undertake swift action to remove people, camps, structures, or personal property. And that the city has to ensure that people will not return to those areas by making sure that the individuals who have been camped there have somewhere else to go. There is more discussion with community stakeholders necessary to define the categories of unsafe and unsuitable locations in ways that are viable and workable, yet leave adequate space for people to go where they do not face immediate removal.
In addition to my belief that the City must enforce rules against camping at unsafe and unsuitable locations, the Seattle Police Department, Fire Department and other first responders must always, everywhere respond to emergency situations, such as fires or medical crisis, and cooperate with other public safety agencies. People must still be prohibited from sitting and lying on sidewalks in commercial areas in accordance with SMC 15.48.040. Lastly, I support the efforts of the Seattle Police Department to enforce laws against other criminal conduct everywhere.
Moving forward, I continue to believe – and resolve – that we must create new public policy that does a much better job managing the impacts of public camping on private land. I propose a series of conversations after the Council passes the budget to better understand the current conditions of public property in all of our communities used by people living outside for their basic survival needs and to understand how the city’s current policies exacerbate those impacts. This way we can move forward to create new policies for how the city manages our public property in such a way that meets our shared goals for public safety, as well as our goals to house or shelter more of our unsheltered neighbors. Council inaction on this issue is irresponsible. The status quo is untenable. But we also must get this right.
Next week in the budget
Next week the Council will meet as the Budget Committee for “Budget Deliberations.” Budget Deliberations meetings are scheduled to meet next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (17th-19th).
These meetings will address issues raised by Council Central Staff and Councilmembers by the October 11 deadline, in a variety of departments.
Agendas and links to materials are available at the Budget Committee meetings page; here are links to the budget process and schedule. You can sign up for e-mail agenda notices here.
Additional information, including an archive of budget documents from 2009 to the present, is available at the Council’s Budget website.
During the last week the Council heard and discussed presentations on the following departments: Human Services, Police, Transportation, Planning and Community Development, as well as a presentation about improving oversight of the City’s management of capital projects.
Police Accountability Legislation submitted to federal judge
On Friday, October 7, the City submitted police accountability legislation to the federal judge overseeing implementation of the 2012 Consent Decree with the US Department of Justice.
The judge has indicated he will complete review of the proposed legislation within 90 days, to “ensure that it does not conflict with the terms or purpose of the Consent Decree.” After his decision, it can be submitted to City Council for consideration.
One provision stands out as the Council considers the Mayor’s proposed 2017-2018 budget:
“SPD shall use preference points in hiring sworn employees who are multi-lingual and/or have work experience or educational background providing important skills needed in modern policing, such as experience working with diverse communities, and social work, mental health or domestic violence counseling, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or other similar work or community service backgrounds.”
I’d like to ensure this provision, or similar language, is used for hiring 72 new officer positions included in the Mayor’s proposed budget. Existing state law requires preference points for military veterans.
Source of Income Discrimination (SOID) Legislation Rulemaking Public Comment
We invite you to join Seattle Office of Civil Rights (SOCR) for two public meetings. These meetings will be to discuss the next step of implementing the SOID bill passed by the City Council in August. To read more about that bill see my blog post and SOCR’s Frequently Asked Questions.
Public Meeting #1: Thursday, October 27th at 6pm at New Holly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave South, Seattle WA 98118. This meeting is an opportunity to learn about ordinance requirements, ask questions and raise areas that are unclear and that may require administrative rules.
Childcare and language interpretation will be provided at each meeting. To request an accommodation or language interpretation please call (206) 684-4514.
Space is limited. Please let SOCR know if you plan to attend by registering for your preferred meeting date. Registration is free. Please call (206) 684-451