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Kshama Sawant’s bill to create 40 tent encampments in Seattle passed, despite attempts for sensible amendments

Today the City Council approved Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s bill to expand the number of tent encampments authorized by our city government from three to 40.

Hoping to make her encampment legislation stronger, I offered amendments to preserve, expand, and extend the successful version of the “Tiny Home Village” model that lifts up those experiencing homelessness by effectively transitioning them to permanent housing. Unfortunately, my approach to honor our new regional approach and focus on what works by modestly expanding the actual Tiny Home Village model did not pass. In my opinion, this bill was falsely advertised as “tiny home villages” when, in fact, it dramatically expands an ineffective tent encampment model that fails to sufficiently reduce homelessness.

When I served the Clinton Administration at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), I was literally working in the office that reviews funding requests from cities across the country seeking to reduce homelessness. My career outside the federal government included years financing the preservation and construction of affordable housing for low income individuals and families across the nation. After a shaky start, actual Tiny Home Villages — with a roof, four walls, and a door combined with robust case management and appropriate levels of security for the safety of residents — have grown into a successful model because they are exiting residents to permanent housing. My amendments would have preserved, expanded, and extended the model actually proven to work.

Homelessness is a regional crisis that requires regional solutions. I’m proud that one of my first votes was to join Mayor Durkan, the previous City Council, and King County officials to create the Regional Homelessness Authority (RHA). This regional body will have experts from the region including those with lived experience of homelessness who will create a Five Year Plan with proven solutions to reduce homelessness. One of my amendments was to extend the existing encampment law until we are ready to implement the RHA’s regional strategies. To have Councilmember Sawant expand tent encampments from three to 40 — within just our city limits — ignores the strategy our region is crafting to address our regional crisis.

Homelessness was, by far, the top concern I heard from residents in every neighborhood of my district over the past year and my district has repeatedly welcomed both tiny home villages and temporary tent encampments on the property of faith-based organizations. When investing tax dollars or changing land use policies, I believe our compassion for those experiencing homelessness requires that we get results with solutions proven to work.

I believe my amendments would have been a good compromise to preserve, extend, and expand a successful model, but because those amendments did not pass, I felt it was important to vote No on this poorly structured bill from Councilmember Sawant. Regardless, the bill passed, so I look forward to monitoring the program to be administered by the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) and Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI). After we collect data on results and after the RHA issues its regional Five Year Plan crafted by experts (including those experiencing homelessness), I look forward to making appropriate adjustments to achieve the goal we all seek: dramatically reduce homelessness so that it is rare, one-time, and brief.

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