In the wake of intense backlash against proposals from the Seattle City Council earlier this month, Mayor Ed Murray took a quieter route to officially unveil his plan to change how the city sweeps encampments and what can be done in coming months to address homelessness in Seattle. In a late Friday announcement, the mayor said he remains committed to a long range overhaul of Seattle’s homelessness resources under his “Pathways Home” strategy but that short-term solutions are also needed.
“Pathways Home remains our long-term plan to transform the way the City invests in programs to address homelessness,” Murray said in the announcement sent to media headed into the weekend. “Today’s announcement, however, recognizes our need to bridge the gap as we still have over 3,000 people living unsheltered on our streets. We need to ensure we are providing safer alternatives for those living on our streets, increasing our outreach efforts, focusing on a more compassionate set of protocols when clean cleanups are necessary and offering trash and needle pickup services to address public health and safety issues.”
The interim plan, included in full at the bottom of this post, will include four new sanctioned encampments boosted by $900,000 in funding plus a new Seattle Navigation Center “to bring adults living outdoors into the Center and work to transition them to stable housing within 30 days.” Two of the sanctioned encampments will be Representatives from Murray’s office have said details on the locations of the encampments and the center will be released in the coming weeks.
According to the plan released Friday, the providers that will operate the center will be named in November 2016. The facility is planned to open by early January 2017. The first of the “authorized encampment spaces” will open by December 2016. The four new encampments are expected to have space for approximately 200 individuals. Two of the new encampments are planned to have “a low-barrier design,” meaning the site “will accept people who are suffering from chronic substance abuse disorders or other behavioral disorders.”
Earlier, Murray said unsanctioned encampments will be prohibited on sidewalks, and in parks, on school grounds, and other locations deemed to be “unsafe.” In most instances, the city would not sweep unauthorized encampments unless there is “a reasonable alternative place to go.” However, in some of the most serious situations, the city could remove people without having to offer alternative housing or encampment locations.
Under the interim plan, homeless outreach will also be more than doubled, including a new Seattle Police “engagement team.” Seattle Parks and Recreation will make community center restrooms and shower facilities available to the public free-of-charge.
Another $1 million will be made available for the Seattle Human Services Department to partner with organizations to create additional indoor shelter and storage capacity. The plan also includes actions for dealing with hazardous materials. Starting in November, the City will provide needle pickup within 24 hours of a report, seven days a week and will install at least 10 new safe sharps disposal boxes across the city to make it easier for people to safely dispose of needles. There will also be an increase in garbage removal services to include better solutions for garbage related to encampments.
While many of the plan’s elements are already in motion, others will require changes to the city’s spending as the new budget is pounded out. CHS reported last week on pushback from the City Council against some of Murray’s prosed budget shuffling and cuts including a proposed cutback on the city’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program.
The full “Interim Action Plan” is below.