Seattle has been rightly outraged by reports that its police officers issued “pointless” $500 tickets to homeless people camping in Ballard even as the city pursues more effective solutions involving outreach and housing. But hundreds more homeless people every month find themselves involved with police thanks to a program many have applauded and some Capitol Hill businesses utilize every day to keep their storefronts clear of campers.
Overnight Thursday, volunteers will conduct a count of homeless people living unsheltered across King County. On Capitol Hill, all they need to do find the campers is check out SPD’s trespass statistics.
Using incident data from SPD, it’s clear that the city’s trespass program is growing in use across Capitol Hill and the East Precinct where calls rose to around 10 per day in 2017, up 84% in only two years. The jump mirrors changes in the city as a whole where trespass calls have jumped 64% since 2015.
Overall, Capitol Hill, the Central District, and First Hill have grown to generate more than 50% of all trespass calls in the city. In 2012 when CHS first began watching trespass data, East Precinct generated just over 10% of the city’s trespass calls. In addition to more businesses taking part in the program, East Precinct officers are also have trespass authority in the areas around I-5’s greenbelt.
Under the program updated in 2013, property owners and business owners can sign over trespass authority to police and let them handle the resulting legal process around a trespass situation. Most enforcement involves a warning but repeat offenders can end up in more serious trouble. The calls vary but many mark the start of a new day on Capitol Hill as businesses prepare to open and have campers filling their doorways.
The trespassing so far outpace the contact rates of the city’s new homeless Navigation Team which pairs outreach workers with police. The Navigation Team visits both unsanctioned and sanctioned encampments that are with or without risk of removal. The city has been conducting around 600 sweeps a year to clean up encampments.
Friday morning’s tally by Count Us In volunteers is likely to show a continued increase in unsheltered people. In 2017 under a new system for the count, teams of three to four volunteers led by the paid guides fanned out by census tract throughout King County. Around 200 teams participated to cover as many of the county’s 398 census tracts as possible. The 2017 Count Us In tally counted a total of 11,643 people experiencing homelessness countywide. There were undoubtedly more who went uncounted and more who have since come to the area.
Seattle, meanwhile, has entered another year of its homelessness emergency and is planning to spend $34 million on services to stem the epidemic in 2018 in what leaders have called a “fundamental shift” in approach.“By moving people from living on the street to permanent homes, we provide them a springboard to better opportunities and a more stable life,” then-Mayor Tim Burgess said. The city has also formed a task force charged with finding new revenue to help pay for the homelessness crisis. TheProgressive Revenue Task Force has until February to deliver recommendations to the council that identify progressive revenue sources as well as specific investments for said revenue that help address Seattle’s homelessness crisis. If the task force doesn’t deliver recommendations by the imposed deadline, the council will begin considering implementing a version of the employee head tax by March 2018. Additionally, District 3 representative Kshama Sawant now chairs the City Council’s newly formed homelessness committee.
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