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My letter to Miller Park community members regarding the Miller Park homeless encampment

Dear Miller Park residents and all community members, 

Thank you for contacting my Council office about your concerns around Miller Park and Playfield, where many facing homelessness were pushed following the inhumane sweep of Cal Anderson Park earlier this year. 

No one should have to live in despair, and it is truly distressing for all your neighbors to see their neighbors and community immiserated. During the pandemic, the loss of a public space is additionally distressing.

In the emails from Miller Park residents, many have expressed empathy and a desire to help those facing the horrific reality of being homeless, especially during a pandemic. This speaks to the deep well of solidarity that exists in the hearts of working people and community members. 

My office has passed on community concerns to several City Departments requesting homeless services to help the people living in Miller Park get back on their feet. We have been told that the HOPE team and REACH have already been active at Miller Park for several weeks. The homeless outreach workers do fantastic work, but I have found that their effectiveness is overwhelmingly constrained by the chronic lack of affordable housing in Seattle. Without affordable options for where people can go, the homelessness crisis will keep getting worse. The Parks Department has been removing litter regularly, which we really appreciate. It is not a solution to the homelessness crisis, but it is a crucial harm reduction step. 

These are positive initiatives. When these problems are so massive and systemic, however, the solutions have to address the root causes. We simply cannot address the crisis of homelessness without addressing the unprecedented affordable housing crisis in Seattle, as skyrocketing rents over the last years have pushed tens of thousands out of the city and thousands onto the streets. The pandemic has exacerbated housing and income problems for so many working-class people. While millionaires and billionaires are profiteering off this pandemic, the brunt of the crisis is being pushed on the shoulders of ordinary people. 

That’s why my office has fought tirelessly to build grassroots movements to fight for publicly-owned, affordable, social housing from the very beginning, and we are especially advocating for it now.

It was through our independently and democratically organized Tax Amazon movement that we forced big business and the Democratic politicians to concede, and we won the Amazon Tax, which funds a major expansion of publicly-owned, permanently-affordable housing by taxing those profiteering enormously during this pandemic, instead of further burdening over-taxed working people. The Tax Amazon movement and my office were also able to force the City Council to include in the Amazon Tax spending plan $18 million per year or more for affordable social housing for Black working-class families in the Central Area. No doubt, we will need to continue organizing to hold them to that. And we will need to fight to increase the Amazon Tax to expand affordable housing even more.

We must stop the homelessness crisis from becoming even more dire by ensuring those who have lost jobs and income during this pandemic don’t lose their housing. This is why our Council office is bringing a resolution to the City Council Monday next week, March 15, to extend the eviction moratorium through the end of 2021 as a crucial protection for renters, and a legislation to provide all renters the right to legal counsel when facing evictions. Statistics from cities like New York and San Francisco that have the right to counsel find a significant positive impact to help people staying housed rather than becoming homeless. Can you sign this petition and add your voice to demand that Mayor Durkan and Governor Inslee extend and strengthen the eviction moratorium, to prevent a tsunami of evictions this year? Please also join us Monday March 15 at 2PM in public comment (sign up at 12 noon) to advocate for the right to counsel legislation. 

Right to counsel is also important because preventing evictions is very much an issue of racial and gender justice. In Baltimore, where the eviction crisis is even worse than here, a 2020 study found that investing $5.7 million in right to counsel legislation would save Baltimore and Maryland $35.6 million in emergency shelter, healthcare, childcare, and other costs.

At the same time, we are also working to build support for the call to also cancel rents/mortgages and debts for working class people who’ve lost income due to the pandemic.

Our People’s Budget movement has won important victories that were thought of as impossible. Through the People’s Budget organizing, we have tens of millions of dollars for social housing, millions of dollars for Tiny House Villages, and the first-ever City public funds for tenants to have legal counsel when facing eviction.

These victories demonstrate that we can take serious and humane steps toward addressing the crisis of homelessness, but not without being serious about getting organized in the grassroots. More fights will be necessary going into the rest of 2021. 

We won funding for 3 new Tiny House Villages last year, however these were in reality just a fraction of what was needed and what we were demanding. Tiny House Villages have been proven to be incredibly successful as a means for moving people permanently out of unsheltered homelessness on the streets and in parks – as a measure on the path to permanent housing. And as I mentioned, the People’s Budget movement (which includes many courageous homeless community members themselves) has succeeded in forcing the Mayor and City Council Democrats to vote yes on funds for tiny house villages. But it has not been to the scale of the problem, and the City establishment continues to talk about being “data-driven” and yet continues to nickel-and-dime this solution that has proven itself statistically so amazingly successful

Instead, the Democratic establishment continues to carry out the inhumane and ineffective sweeps. We have overwhelming evidence to show that sweeps of homeless neighbors are brutal, that sweeps destroy what little homeless community members have, and that sweeps push encampments to different parts of the city in a never ending cycle of cruelty and ineffectiveness. Sweeps do absolutely nothing to actually address the crisis of homelessness facing Seattle. Yet, the Democratic establishment has continued to carry them out – despite the protests of our movement and community members.

We must demand from the City Council and Mayor:

  • Pass right to counsel for ALL tenants facing eviction, without loopholes.
  • Extend the COVID eviction moratorium through the end of 2021.
  • Increase the Amazon Tax on pandemic profiteers to fully fund social services and high-quality, permanently-affordable social housing.
  • Build emergency tiny house villages with funded case management as humane measures.
  • Stop the ineffective and inhumane sweeps.

Each of these essential steps will require our movement to achieve. We must start from the position of funding, which always means taxing either corporations or everyday people. It is obvious that working class people are already being overtaxed, Washington having the most regressive tax structure in the entire Country. We don’t need more soda taxes, more sales taxes, more property taxes, we need to tax the corporations making billions while hundreds of thousands die, often trying to make ends meet working at these same corporations. 

The City Council will not do this on their own, we’ve seen this time and again through our Tax Amazon movement, and our movements that successfully won a whole series of renters’ rights that were thought of as impossible. We can only rely on our collective grassroots organization voicing clear demands resolutely over the council’s objections if we have a hope of winning and actually addressing the multitude of ills facing us. 

We need our movement’s voice now more than ever. We need collective action for permanently affordable housing and green jobs, paid for by taxing the rich more than ever. I hope you will lend your voice to these struggles, and my office pledges to continue to be the movement’s voice in City Hall – against the greed of the corporate developers and corporate landlords. 

In solidarity, 

Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Councilmember District 3

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