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‘A short path to more affordable housing,’ Seattle finalizing plan for homeless encampments

This map shows where in the city the encampments could be allowed. Amendments to be discussed next week could change some of the restrictions (Image: Seattle.gov)

This map shows where in the city the encampments could be allowed. Amendments to be discussed next week could change some of the restrictions (Image: Seattle.gov)

A plan that would regulate tent encampments in Seattle in a program creating space for 300 homeless residents received lots of support and lots of suggestions for fine tuning during a public hearing on the legislation Thursday at City Hall. Many of the speakers had first-hand experience with living in Seattle without a home.

“We know that homeless people are turned away each night because the shelters are full,” Real Change vendor Willie Jones said during the public comment period on the legislation. “We know because it has happened to each of us.”

The plan championed by Mayor Ed Murray’s office would change Seattle law to allow three homeless encampments on city or private land in non-residential areas. Many speakers Thursday night spoke out about the “red-lining” in the bill that would restrict the camps from the city’s residential areas. An amendment from Council member Kshama Sawant to be discussed at the next committee meeting on the legislation seeks to address the issue.

onc15-chartIn the meantime, churches would be allowed to continue to offer space to encampments like Tent City’s stays at St. Mark’s or St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill.

The most significant tent encampments in Seattle have been the Nickelsville projects that have moved around the city as land was available for the facilities. At one point in 2013, there were three different Nickelsville camps in the Central District. Some of those locations could again be under consideration under the new plan but city planners haven’t yet publicly discussed proposals for the dozen or so sites that are expected to be under consideration before choosing the final three.

Planning and land use committee chair Mike O’Brien tells CHS the bill is lined up for a full council vote on March 9th which would mean the first camps under the regulations could be open by late summer or early fall.

In the most recent “One Night Count” of homeless people sleeping on the streets of King County, volunteers tallied 3,772 people sleeping outside.

The city is emphasizing the “transitional” nature of the camps.

“It’s not a permanent solution,” O’Brien told CHS before Thursday night’s hearing. “It’s a step along the path and we have to make sure it’s a short path to more affordable housing.”

UPDATE: The Daily Journal of Commerce reports on one new development that should also help planned for 7th and Cherry:

Plymouth Housing Group will start construction in January on 83 apartments for formerly homeless people on First Hill, near an area under Interstate 5 where people now sleep at night.

 

 

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Bob Knudson
Bob Knudson
6 years ago

Willie Jones claims that shelters are full and that homeless people are turned away each night.

I have been and still am skeptical of this claim. Are all the shelters full every night of the year? Does a homeless person usually try another shelter when he/she is turned away because one is full? It would be helpful to have more data on this issue. And I think there should be a centralized system in place so that, if someone is turned away, they can be directed to a shelter which has space for them.

In my opinion, many homeless people choose to sleep outdoors at night not because a shelter bed is unavailable, but because they don’t like the curfew and the prohibition against drugs/alcohol.

whatthewhat
whatthewhat
6 years ago
Reply to  Bob Knudson

What he says is functionally true, especially for single men. The single adult shelters in the city of Seattle are full basically every night and there are turn aways.

Operation Nightwatch runs a shelter dispatch system that does a lot of what you suggest, coordination wise:

http://www.seattlenightwatch.org/dispatchcenter.htm

There is data on shelter occupancy, but I don’t know where its easily available in a user-friendly format. But its collected by all the major funders and probably by every funder.

Bob Knudson
Bob Knudson
6 years ago
Reply to  whatthewhat

I’m glad to hear about Operation Nightwatch and of the important work that they do. But its location is somewhat remote from where most homeless people hang out. Do they have to call or actually get there in order to take advantage of the dispatch service? If so, it probably serves only a fraction of the need.

whatthewhat
whatthewhat
6 years ago
Reply to  Bob Knudson

Not totally sure, but I believe you have to go there.

And yes, I agree it’s likely they are serving only a fraction of the need and it’s probably not the perfect model. But they are filling all the available beds, so…I think that suggests we may need other services in addition to better coordination.

Christine H
Christine H
6 years ago

The problem is lumping all homeless into one category and thinking that this one-size-fits-all strategy will work. There are homeless who will go to these encampments and will continue to do so. But the people who sleep in doorways and who live (exist) around the freeway onramps (and who sometimes fall to their death on I5) are a different group. There are down-on-their-luck homeless, there are homeless with mental health and severe drug issues, and there are many who just like living that way – they have their own “community” there.

Fritz
Fritz
6 years ago

Only 300? Why so few? Why not 3,000? After all, if you build it, they will come.

The more services offered, the more homeless (including the young and able who appear to be choosing this as a lifestyle) will appear to take advantage. This no solution for the homeless, because the more you reward something, you get more of it.

rageofage
rageofage
6 years ago
Reply to  Fritz

Yours is a old and tired argument. Time to bury this one.

Hutch
Hutch
6 years ago
Reply to  Fritz

I, for one, am salivating at the opportunity to spend a Seattle winter living in a fenced-off collection of tents. I’ve preemptively dropped out of school so that I’ll be ready! It will be like being in the circus!

Bob Knudson
Bob Knudson
6 years ago
Reply to  Fritz

I think Fritz makes a valid point, and just because its old doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. Some able-bodied people do choose the homeless lifestyle, and more tents will make it easier for them to do so. It could be argued that providing such housing is classic
“enabling” behavior. City representatives always say that tent cities are only a “temporary” solution, but it seems to me that this approach has become entrenched. The focus should be more on getting homeless people to social services, and especially into permanent housing.

jc
jc
6 years ago
Reply to  Bob Knudson

It will be much easier to connect people with those services when they’re at a central location and not scattered around town, sleeping in doorways and along freeways. Permanent housing is the ultimate goal, but it just isn’t available right now. SHA has abandoned its puropose and the city needs to step up. Kshama Sawant is making noise, and Jonathan Grant has a shot at the council. A long-term solution may be coming soon.

herpaderpa
herpaderpa
6 years ago
Reply to  Bob Knudson

Sure, but do you throw the baby out with the bathwater just because a few people abuse the system? How about we cancel social security, since some percentage of people receive it fraudulently? How about medicare? Welfare? Food stamps?

These are arguments generally proposed by Republicans who want to cut or eliminate social services. All can and are abused, but you suck up a few bad apples to help the larger groups of people in need.

CaphillTom
CaphillTom
6 years ago

It’s interesting to see this plan surface to try and help more homeless. Just last December, Seattle Housing backtracked on a plan to jack the rents on their units, which would likely have forced more people out onto the street.

Seems like one side of the City is trying to get people out and this one is offering people a place to go. Hmm….

jc
jc
6 years ago
Reply to  CaphillTom

SHA is not a city agency, it’s part of HUD and funded by the federal government. They seem to be abandoning their original purpose, and the city is starting to pick up where they left off.

Geo
Geo
6 years ago

Notice that there are *none* in Madison Park, Madrona, Leschi, Denny Blaine: none all along the neighborhoods on Lake Washington. It is a question to think about. Seems to me a way to get more visibility and money on the problem would be to put these encampments where the money is located.

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
6 years ago
Reply to  Geo

It’s not there now, but Madrona DID host a tent city several years ago. And one of the churches in Madrona is one of the few shelters that houses families together. Just because it’s not on that map doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

matt
matt
6 years ago
Reply to  Geo

So true. Add Montlake, North Capitol Hill…

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[…] The planning and land use committee and chair Mike O’Brien approved the city’s plan to regulate homeless encampments by permitting three camps in Seattle. Kshama Sawant’s amendment seeking to expand the area […]

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[…] statements if not major changes. Most importantly, the Council voted unanimously to approve a program creating space for 300 homeless people to camp at three encampments in locations to be determined across the city. Amendments to make the permit […]

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[…] solution is to expand the number of authorized tent sites, as Mayor Ed Murray has proposed. Murray’s office also announced in April that the Capitol Hill’s Peace for the Streets by […]