Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (Position 8, Citywide), Chair of the Finance and Housing Committee, issued the following statement in response to the City of Seattle attempting to clear a homeless encampment at Cal Anderson Park:
“I remain concerned with the planned removal and urge first placement in non-congregate shelter options in order to be in compliance with current public health CDC guidance. We need to place folks in available housing and appropriate shelter options, like the additional tiny houses and hotel rooms authorized in the budget, that meet the demographic needs of those in an encampment. City parks represent public space and healthy communities and should be usable by all; and we must balance access to this public health resource with the public health crisis to not put at risk our entire community health.
“The public health guidance states ‘the risks associated with sleeping outdoors or in an encampment setting are different than the risks from staying indoors in a congregate setting because outdoor settings may better accommodate increased physical distancing.’ Further, we know that when the city posts an encampment removal sign it has the effect of dispersing people into the community, making it harder to find and house people and creating even greater risk for exposure to COVID-19. At the very least, if there is not sufficient shelter available, then the safety, sanitation and hygiene services must be met for the city’s health.
“We must have a shared goal going forward – to provide safe alternative places to live that is not in the streets or our community parks, and this requires ensuring appropriate housing and non-congregate shelter first. For months, Council and the Executive Branch have worked to realize a shared understanding of how to address unauthorized homeless encampments during the COVID pandemic, focusing first and foremost on the public safety and health of all Seattle residents, and I’m hopeful we can return to that strategy. There may be appropriate reasons for removals such as blocking sidewalks or when people’s safety is at risk, however, adequate housing and non-congregate shelter options must be secured first through extensive outreach, especially during the time of a pandemic.”
Alison Eisinger, Director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness added, “We had hopes that Seattle’s decision to step back from conducting COVID sweeps in recognition of the serious harm they cause people without homes and the increased risk of exposure for them and others signaled a more reasonable and partnership approach. There are clearly not enough individual housing options or shelter beds available. It is raining and cold. We strongly urge the city to take a different approach.”