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Maps cause neighborhood stir over Seattle encampment protections

While Mayor Ed Murray is working to implement a plan he says could see all unsheltered residents housed by 2017, untold numbers of people continue to live on Seattle’s sidewalks and in public green spaces, and presumably would continue to do so if Murray’s plan falls short.

A bill making its way though City Council is seeking to give more protections to those people living on public property, requiring in some instances that they are offered an adequate and available place to stay before being removed. Supporters, including District 3 representative Kshama Sawant, say the alternative is to keep shuffling people around without any long term solution.

Drafted by the ACLU and introduced by Council member Mike O’Brien, the bill has stirred up controversy in City Hall for detracting from Murray’s focus on getting all unsheltered residents into permanent housing.

The pot was given another stir over the weekend as draft maps were released by Seattle’s parks and transportation departments showing where the extended protections would apply under O’Brien’s plan.

But the released maps fail to show the areas that could be taken off the list due to unsafe or unsuitable conditions.

As the fine print on one of the maps notes, further analysis would be required to “verify potentially unsuitable areas or the presence of environmentally critical areas or other use restriction.”

seattlehomelesscampingmapmap-of-industrial-streets-and-streets-adjacent-to-public-propertyAs is, the maps show camping protections extended to hundreds miles of sidewalks and thousands of acres of public green space, including some areas on Capitol Hill already mired in controversy over encampments.

Among the areas identified by the Parks department were Washington Park and Arboretum, Madrona Park, and Interlaken Park. Sidewalks identified by SDOT include those around the Seattle Police East Precinct at 12th and Pine, several blocks along 19th Ave E near the Miller Community Center, and the square block surrounding Lowell Elementary and the school’s play field.

Current city protocol requires a 72 hours notice before each sweep, but homeless advocates say there is often no other place for people to go and inadequate policies controlling what happens to personal possessions.

Under O’Brien’s bill, if an area is considered “suitable” and safe, those camping would get 30 days of outreach with offers to stay in appropriate shelter. A 48-hour vacate notice would be issued if the area is deemed unsafe, but more time would be allowed if something could be done to reduce the risk, like clearing the area of hazardous material. In those instances, city workers could also offer safer outdoor areas on public property.

Once a person is officially removed from an encampment, the bill would require the city to catalogue that person’s belonging and and store them for at least 90 days. Violations of the law by the city would result in a $250 fine paid towards the affected person.

O’Brien’s bill would also establish an 11-member panel to advise officials on encampment removals.

At-large City Council member Tim Burgess has strongly denounced the bill, saying it would allow encampments to spread dramatically throughout the city. Critics have also pointed to Portland’s short-lived experiment with expanded urban camping. “This proposed law is not balanced and will do absolutely nothing to move people from homelessness to safe and appropriate housing. Nothing,” Burgess said.

Instead, Burgess is backing the mayor’s homeless plan released in September. Based on the findings of two consultant reports, Murray’s Pathways Home plan calls for dramatically shifting how the city spends some $50 million in annual homeless prevention funding to a so-called “housing first” strategy.

Along with a complex set of efficiencies to be made in the city’s Human Services Department, the plan aims to have all unsheltered people in Seattle sheltered by 2017.

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42 thoughts on “Maps cause neighborhood stir over Seattle encampment protections

  1. This is absurd. The cost associated with it will only detract from the money available to actually find permanent housing. Quality of life for the residents around the areas where they’ll gather to camp will be degraded, but I guess that no longer matters?

    It’s almost preferable to leave them camp under the freeway than to let them spread all over to parks, sidewalks, etc. Let’s leave the detritus, human waste where it is.

  2. These ‘protections’ are absurd and are a disservice to the homeless. We’re going to spend city time and money figuring out where they can ‘legally’ trespass instead of figuring out how to get them off the streets and into homes? Really, we need an “11 person panel” to advise on removing stuff from public property that shouldn’t be there to begin with? Ridiculous. ACLU are proving themselves to be crackpots — and bringing O’Brien along with them. This has all the makings of a great Onion article.
    Thank you Mr. Burgess for denouncing this.

  3. Mike O’Brien needs to be kicked off the city council along with a few other city council members. The Seattle City council is a train wreck!

    • I agree. If O’Brien’s bill is passed as is, it will be one of the biggest mistakes the Council has ever made. One only need read Danny Westneat’s recent column in The Seattle Times, where he writes about Portland’s recent experience with a pilot program similar to what O’Brien is concocting….it was shelved after 6 months due to a rampant increase in camping in public spaces/parks. Why can’t we learn from Portland?

  4. Never thought I would ever, in my life, vote Republican, but I think I’ll be going there this year thanks to these absurd proposals by city council. Both Bill Bryant (for governor) and Mark Miloscia (for auditor) have made statements against this sort of hyper-liberal fantasy and have proposed much more reasonable plans to address homelessness while also keeping places SAFE for the people who live there!

    • I agree with you. I’m pretty damn liberal, but this is getting crazy. It’s starting to feel like the homeless have more rights than the rest of us.

    • Republicans don’t have real solutions for homelessness. They’re the ones at the national level that have been leading the charge to defund critical programs that put us in the place we’re in right now. However, I agree that the council is WAY out over their skis on this proposal. It’s simply terrible policy that is being dictated by a tiny group of well-meaning but delusional interest groups.

    • If only we could do so sooner rather than later.

      It’s amazing that all involved ignore the proof against the concept in Portland. Why is the ACLU that much more powerful than 1) the needs of tax-paying residents and businesses and 2) common sense.

  5. Between the Seattle city council (excluding the lone sane voice of Burgess) and Trump it’s like we are living in the middle of a farce. I keep asking myself “is this really happening.”

  6. Wouldn’t this open the city up to threat of lawsuits if the “legalized” camping areas are unsafe / causing safety concerns to residents?

  7. No amount of rehabilitation or park give-a-way raffle is going to permit these people any decent life in the city of Seattle. Sane, sober people with good intentions and a strong work ethic are struggling to keep themselves indoors and fed in Seattle, so someone with mental health/drug issues is likely never going to keep their head above water without serious state assistance. The hard truth of this is that living in Seattle has become a privilege and there is no easy way for the hard-left to rationalize this.

    I’m all for being compassionate towards these folks but turning over the beautiful parks of Seattle to them is going to create giant above ground landfills.

  8. We wonder why the homeless problem is so great here? Perhaps it’s because our insane city leaders have made it such an inviting target for this behavior. Seattle is like Disneyland for homeless people. “Come to Seattle! You can do whatever you want and our hardworking tax payers will cover it”.

  9. One side effect of this (beyond the obvious) is that it causes citizens to lose faith in their cherished institutions. I’ve never flinched at voting ‘yes’ for anything related to parks, but if this goes through, I can imagine lots of people will starts seeing parks (and any open space in general) as a negative, rather than positive thing. It is a not so subtle form of property theft to let people homestead our public lands.

  10. You can’t run a city by either of the political extremes, either ultra conservative or ultra progressive. Letting special interest groups actually write legislation that the council then votes on should be stopped in its tracks by the state. Portland tried a version of letting the homeless camp on sidewalks and it failed miserably.

  11. Taken from Reddit:

    Rally at Seattle City Hall Fri 8 AM · 601 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104

    Mayor Ed’s veto is useless if 6 or more of the city council members vote in favor of the bill. Only Tim Burgess is opposed, so that leaves 8 council members voting in favor.
    All of Seattle: YOUR district council members are about to give our parks away to homesteaders building shanty towns. Tim Burgess one opposing vote and Mayor Ed’s impotent veto aren’t going to prevent that.
    If you don’t want the parks turned into shanty towns, show up at city hall on Friday at 8 am:

    • Here are their email addresses, one email, 5 minutes, let your voice be heard.

      ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’

  12. So much for the Seattle process. Normal things in this city take forever, with lots of public input, redrafting, and fine-tuning (which, I’m actually okay with). This proposal seems to be flying through at light speed, comparatively. Like a lot of other commenters, I’m a reliable liberal, but this is insane (imagining the unintended consequences is staggering). I don’t know if I can think of an other issue where the Council has been so adversarial to, well, basically everybody else in the city.

  13. Amazing. A month ago the city closed public access on the path through the Lowell School campus because of feces, needles and filth left beside it by illegal campers. But now they’re going to allow homeless camping on the ENTIRE perimeter of the school! But, hey, we have to balance the needs of the junkies against these elementary school kids whose parents somehow feel that they should have the right to wheel their kid’s wheelchair down the sidewalk without rolling through a pile of human waste.

    And oh yeah, that big parks levy I voted for? I see a massive law suit in the city’s near future if they destroy the parks we’ve paid for.

    I’ll never vote again for any council member who votes in favor of this legislation, progressive that I am, because this fails the most basic common sense test.

  14. I wonder if the members of city council recognize that a vote in favor of this (or anything like this) is the same as saying “I do not want to be a city council member anymore”… because that’s what exactly will happen.

    Seattle is liberal, but not insane. Burgess will be the only one left. It is hard to comprehend how Bruce Harrell could knowingly end his council career by voting in favor of this. Of course Sawant will vote yes on this… one positive side-effect maybe this is the secret sauce we needed to get her out and someone who actually cares about dist. 3 in.

  15. Don’t O’Brien and his Council allies have to precisely define “unsafe” and “unsuitable” before this insanity passes? I want to see the maps where these filters have been applied. He seems so shocked that people are upset over this proposal, but there are a lot of gems in there that would probably quickly get trashed. I understand there will probably always be urban campers, and it serves a need I’m sympathetic to. However, this behavior should never be normalized and/or codified.

  16. No. Just plain NO! And this is not a matter of partisan politics (I’m convinced that the Republicans and Democrats are one in the same anyway). Not only has Portland’s plan been a dismal failure but what is happening in San Francisco is even worse. There simply has to be a solution other than turning our parks and increasingly fewer green areas into homeless encampments. Plus, I can’t even begin to imagine what the various park caretakers must be envisioning is going to occur to their job descriptions. Ugh. In fact, didn’t the City recently make a big deal out of proposing to place 2 animal control officers to give tickets to people who allow their dogs off-leash and poop in the parks? I guess it will be okay for people to poop in the bushes, do drugs and drink but boy, you had better ticket those dog owners. What is going on lately, anyway?

  17. The council should take a good close look at Nickles and how a SINGLE poorly handled snow storm sent him out of office in a flood of voter rage. There are are a lot of very liberal voters in Seattle (myself included) who generally are happy to just vote yes on most levies, assume that our council is basically going to more or less do the right thing and otherwise ignore local politics. It’s only when the elected officials do something that slaps the public with their gross incompetence (and sheer indifference to public will in this case) that you get a wave election that mixes things up.
    The worst part of this is how O’Brien, Johnson and others are trying to mince words now and say they are opposed to camping in parks, while then only occasionally qualifying that statement that they only mean the actively maintained parts of parks (so goodbye greenbelts and other natural area, who needs those). The bill was fundamentally flawed when introduced and like the human waste that is laying around in parks and sidewalks now, no matter how much the try to “polish” it, we’re still going to have a big old pike of dookey.

  18. Whoa, these reactionary comments are bonkers! The mayor is strongly opposed to this legislation, so his Executive departments (like Parks) are putting out [unverified!] maps to spur outrage. The legislation is still a work in progress, but is also intended to bring some humanity back to the well-documented [!] ineffective and nasty sweeps.

    You can’t outlaw homelessness, and there isn’t housing for all of these individuals. So then what? “Sweeps” = bulldozers, throwing out people’s belongings, and just moving people to another part of the city. What good does that do?

    Mark Milocia doesn’t have the answer, Bill Bryant doesn’t have the answer, and Ed Murray doesn’t have the answer. Short of enough money to house and provide services to all, there aren’t good answers.

    They may not have the answer, either, but least the city council is trying to work through this, come to a common understanding, and develop a different approach.

    • Build housing for the homeless then. I’m fine with a levy to support that, but I don’t want our parks taken over by campers.

  19. This is absurd. I have always had respect for the ACLU, but this proposal has changed my opinion of the organization. It is a sad moment for them and our city.

    I imagine there will be a mountain of lawsuits related to this. The city could be sued for allowing the destruction of public parks and environmentally sensitive areas, a pedestrian could be hit by a car when they have to step off the sidewalk to go around an encampment, or a person could get a needle stick while trimming grass in the parking strip when there are campers in front of their home.

    This, combined with the destruction of quality of life, the public health concerns, and the fact that it doesn’t do anything to solve homelessness makes this proposal ridiculous.

    We just approved a massive levy to address homelessness and we get this?

  20. City Council may as well enjoy their remaining time in office. Unfortunately we citizens are left with the responsibility to unfuck everything they have screwed up. Thanks for nothing.

  21. Wonder if the entire sidewalk/parking strip around the Lowell playground gets colonized if they will still insist on keeping the path closed, insuring no normal adults ever come within a block of the school.

  22. i would also strongly encourage everyone to also actually – vote! the last local election had an appalling turn-out (though capitol hill’s was greater than other neighborhoods). you can’t complain about the government you get if you don’t participate in the election process. had more people voted we might not have ended up with the city council we have today.

  23. It’s really important that you express your concern with an email or phone call today to the council and the mayor. Not all of us can make it to the rally Friday because some of us have to work.

    To email these folks the format is as follows:

    Ed Murray

    Sally Bagshaw

    Tim Burgess

    Lorena Gonzales

    Bruce Harrell

    Lisa Herbold

    Rob Johnson

    Debora Juarez

    Mike O’Brien

    Kshama Sawant

  24. I think I’m gonna start The Seattle Glamping Company. Set up several high-end safari tents in Discovery park and try to get a mention in Sunset magazine. I can even airbnb them out at a couple hundred a night in peak season. O’Brian, thank you for this business opportunity.

  25. This proposed legislation is just unreal. I cannot believe that the Council is even considering this. Yesterday I took some photos while walking to work from Capitol Hill to Eastlake, which I forwarded to each of the council members this morning:

    The two camps adjacent to my workplace in Eastlake are a disaster. It’s just unbelievable that unlawful camping, with all of its associated problems, could be expanded to our parks, greenbelts, and other public right-of-way.