Seattle planning homeless lockers

"His collection" (Image: Kate Clark via Flickr)

“His collection” (Image: Kate Clark via Flickr)

It’s one of those things that is impossible to gauge — Are there more homeless campers on the streets around Broadway and Pike/Pine? Or just a few examples of larger, more permanent than usual camps? Or is it this way every year and we just forget? Whichever the case, humans have possessions and property no matter what their housing status is.

This camp cleared from Cal Anderson in January included 800 pounds of items, according to Seattle Parks.

City Council members Sally Bagshaw and Bruce Harrell say they are working on a plan for a system of lockers to be made available to homeless people and those in need to store their belongings. The goal is to have 100 lockers available in Seattle before the end of the year:

Here’s a small step we can take toward restoring a sense of dignity and safety in Seattle:

• Like Lisbon, provide freestanding lockers outside. Those who get the lockers must maintain regular contact with their case manager, keep the locker area clean, and agree not to store illegal substances or weapons.

• Like Berkeley, negotiate with a private storage company to make lockers available at fair prices. Locker users must be in regular contact with a case manager and have a plan to get off the street.

• Like Madison, contract with human service providers to add lockers or protected storage areas where they offer showers or food.

• Like Sacramento, work with local churches and shop classes to build simple wooden lockers available across the city.

Will we face opposition? Of course.

Some will complain about public costs. Or fear terrorists. Or worry about the burden of watching someone else’s stuff. Some of these concerns are real, yet other cities have found ways to deal with the worries while providing something substantial that helps. So can we.

Over the next 100 days, we will investigate what has worked in other cities. We will investigate costs and solutions. We will work with the Mayor and our other partners to set a goal of adding 100 lockers in our city this year.

There have been past efforts to assist homeless people in Seattle with storage but they have been run by non-profit organizations and at a much smaller scale than the new proposal.

In the meantime in the East Precinct, calls for businesses using the city’s trespass program continue to to move many of the campers along. Empty retail spaces and buildings shuttered and awaiting development, however, sometimes provide the opportunity for a camper to create a long-term place to sleep and store belongings.

Bagshaw and Harrell acknowledged the lockers would be only “one small tool” to help Seattle’s homeless population. A locker proposal isn’t yet on any upcoming City Council agenda.

19 thoughts on “Seattle planning homeless lockers


  1. “Some will complain about public costs. Or fear terrorists. Or worry about the burden of watching someone else’s stuff. Some of these concerns are real, yet other cities have found ways to deal with the worries while providing something substantial that helps. So can we.”

    Yes, that way called ignoring the taxpayer. Sounds like our money will be spent however they choose.

          • We already had and continue to add programs for the homeless. It is one of the factors that keeps increasing the homeless population in Seattle. You want to offer something that would work? There are a little under 100 ghost towns in WA. See if anyone of them want’s to take one and make their own community. Seattle could spend the money assisting for a year. There’re people that would jump at the chance and they wouldn’t be homeless anymore. Then you’d see the ones that stay for the most part are happy with the homeless lifestyle that are just here for the handouts.

      • That’s nice but probably not feasible in a large city like Seattle that has record low housing inventory. Lockers are a good start. A work program would be a good solution not sure if it’s realistic or not. I see alot of pot holes out there still.

  2. Hmm, the storage units will become giant rat infested heaps of garbage. I would guess that these people are in the situation they are in due to mental illness. They are going to horde and collect garbage until they can’t manage it anymore. Giving them more room to store there stuff is going to make it worse not better. We have a huge homeless problem in my area, Humboldt county, Ca. Groups clean out camps around here and end up with loads measuring in tons. Do I have a solution, no. Is this proposal the answer, no.

    • I think this can be a good idea. If there is a limited amount of lockers (the goal is 100, a small percentage of our homeless population), and they can only be obtained through a case manager/service worker, then ideally a majority of the lockers will help those who are actually looking to move up from their situation, and not those who are hoarders, etc. It’s not like they’re proposing building thousands of these that will be given willy-nilly to any and all homeless folk.

      Is it going to fix the trash? No. Is it going to clean up the street? No. Is it going to help those that need a little help to get themselves out of being homeless? I think so. You and I aren’t going to see much change from this day to day, but if it helps a good number of people that are trying to help themselves, then yes, it can be beneficial.

      • I could use a Locker, so I could store my suitcase when I go to interviews. A Apartment would be better, but I can’t even get a room unless I have a Job and I can’t get a job unless I have a place to live, (room/ apartment) That’s a vicious Cycle.

  3. I hate to be pessimistic, but it’s unlikely that lockers will have a significant effect on this problem. Homeless people lead very disorganized lives and I doubt they would take advantage of this possibility. Instead, they will continue to leave their crap all over our public spaces because they think it’s their right and because they just don’t give a damn.

    And, by the way, homeless stuff on our streets is a major example of the “broken windows theory.”

    • While many homeless people do that – and these lockers won’t stop that from happening, if these lockers are done right (like some of the examples from the other cities where case managers or service providers are required) it could help the homeless people that are looking to move up from their lives. If the goal really is only 100, this will be an incentive and a good service for those who are trying to get a leg up and remove themselves from their situation.

      This isn’t going to fix a trash and hoarding problem, but this will help the small percentage of those (and 100 is a small percentage of the homeless population, by far) that could use the help.

  4. I’m not sure if it is perception, or reality, but in the past few weeks the number of “campers” sleeping in doorways on the east side of broadway seems to have increased significantly. Pho Than Bros, Broadway Video, Apre, Red Light, Lyric, old Broadway Grill… Dozens of people seeking shelter from the elements in these doorways, and then leaving behind garbage including bottles of urine (2 mornings in a row at the 60 Bus layover in front of Broadway Video).

    Our city has a homelessness problem, and lockers are a mere tiny bandaid. Supportive housing and related services, affordable housing, and eviction prevention programs seem like the only things that generally work to reduce long term homelessness.

    But that doesn’t mean we don’t need bandaids in the mean time, provided the “solutions” don’t stop there.

    • I have noticed this too. Vacant storefronts are a magnet for homeless camping, because they know there is no business owner there to shoo them away. But there are also camps at the entry to active businesses, and nothing is done about those either unless the campers stay beyond opening hours. Why are business owners and/or landlords not calling the police? They just turn a blind eye as if they don’t care about the health of the neighborhood.

      Before anyone accuses me of not caring about the homeless, I’ll just say again that there are many shelter beds available in Seattle.

    • I have walked north on the east side of Broadway to work for the last year and a half. Yesterday, I had to cross the street and walk on the west side because this ‘camp’ between Thomas and Harrison has grown so large with not just stuff, but over half a dozen people sleeping and occupying the sidewalk. To get through I would have had to walk in the street, or excuse myself and shimmy through the people there, which is uncomfortable. It’s gone too far, and I’m sick of it. I want the homelessness down in Seattle. It’s very sad to see it everyday, and we need to take steps to work towards lowering homelessness.

  5. I think this is a great idea. I also think that some of the commenters obviously have not interacted with many homeless people. Yes, some homeless people are “disorganized” but very few are leaving their stuff around town for kicks because they “think it’s their right” as the ALWAYS charming calhoun writes. I am a social worker at a local hospital and interact with homeless people every single day. One of the biggest concerns I hear from folks I discharge to shelters or the street is that people are worried about their belongings. You can’t just leave your stuff at a shelter if you are homeless, you have to tote it around with you all day long and this can be VERY challenging if you are older, disabled or frail–even if we are just talking about a backpack or a suitcase. Sure, some homeless people do tend to be hoarders (gee, why could that possibly be? I can’t imagine why someone living in poverty would cling to whatever belongings they had and try to surround themselves with items that seemed useful and valuable, even if they in fact are not). But I think if most of us look around our apartments, a lot of us would probably admit that we have way more stuff than we reasonably need. Homeless people are still PEOPLE, with the same flaws and quirks as the rest of us.

    I agree that this is just a band aid. Seattle desperately needs more transitional/supportive housing options, as well as more subsidized housing (SHA waiting list is like 3 years, y’all). Sure, lockers won’t solve all problems, but they will make it easier for homeless people to be mobile around the city and to accomplish the things they need to do to get OFF the streets. I think a lot of people think homeless people just lie around all day. Actually, it really takes up a lot of time to be poor/homeless. There’s a lot of hassle involved and most of the time you are just in survival mode and don’t really have the time/ability to be applying for jobs or even tending to hygiene. At least this is something, but sure, I would love to see more.

    • Gee, I’ve never been called “charming” before….thanks!

      Please note that I did not say the homeless leave their crap all over “for kicks”….those are your words.

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