The Seattle City Council will pursue emergency legislation to limit homeless encampment sweeps during the COVID-19 crisis. South Seattle rep Tammy Morales is joining Central Seattle’s Kshama Sawant and citywide member Teresa Mosqueda in pushing for a compromise solution to the city’s ongoing clearance of people camping and living outside.
Seattle City Council Insight reports the proposed legislation would “align the city’s practices with guidance from the CDC, which has warned that removing encampments can disperse homeless people into the larger community and potentially increase transmission of COVID-19.”
Earlier this month, the city’s Navigation Team swept clear a major encampment in Ballard. The city says the encampment included “living structures” that “obstructed public rights-of-way” “public health risks” including an ongoing hepatitis outbreak. “The team made repeated visits to this site, resulting in 19 accepted offers of shelter in the week leading up to the removal,” a city report on the clearance reads.
The new bill would prevent city funds from being used to clear camps that don’t represent an “active” health risk:
- the encampment constitutes an active health threat other than the transmission of communicable diseases (including COVID) to the occupants or the surrounding neighborhood, where public health resources have already been provided to address the condition, the health resources did not resolve the condition, and it’s anticipated that relocation would resolve it;
- it poses an immediate hazard;
- the path of travel clearance for sidewalks from the encampment is not 4 feet wide or greater, or the encampment blocks a curb ramp or a bike lane;
- the encampment presents a fire or safety hazard to infrastructure;
- the encampment obstructs an entrance or exit to a building;
- it is located in a children’s play area.
The restrictions would be in effect through the COVID-19 emergency and would go into place immediately but require approval from seven of the council’s nine members. Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office says it will not support the proposed restrictions. The bill is slated to be taken up later this month in the Select Committee on Homelessness Strategy and Investments chaired by first-year council member Andrew Lewis.
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