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‘Compassion Seattle’ proposal would provide housing, services — and, backers say, a city ‘open and clear of encampments’

The eastern entrance to the Miller Park playfield (Image: CHS)

A group of “diverse civic and community members, business and neighborhood leaders” including business groups like the Downtown Seattle Association, homelessness service providers like the Chief Seattle Club, plus the Public Defender Association, Evergreen Treatment Services, United Way King County, and the Housing Development Consortium are backing a plan to provide what they say the mayor’s office and city council cannot: a comprehensive strategy of housing, services, and clearance resources to address Seattle’s longrunning homelessness crisis.

Led by former councilmember and mayor Tim Burgess, the Compassion Seattle coalition is backing a charter amendment that would fundamentally change Seattle’s governmental structure around managing homeless services and create a separate $200 million fund to back it.

The proposal would back up its efforts to provide housing and services with a requirement that “city parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces and sidewalks and streets” remain “open and clear of encampments” once the programs are available.

From Compassion Seattle’s announcement:

The groups worked collaboratively to craft specific action steps to address homelessness through a citizen initiative to amend the City Charter. It would require the city to provide low-barrier, rapid-access mental health and substance use disorder and services; field engagement; and emergency and permanent housing options with a focus on people with high barriers to services and those who are chronically homeless. Behavioral health support is often a key missing component of current interventions. Along with the mandate to provide immediate care related to mental health and substance use disorder, the plan requires the city to provide an additional 2,000 units of emergency or permanent housing within one year of the charter amendment being adopted by Seattle voters. Results from a February 2021 poll show 71% of Seattle voters are in favor of the charter amendment’s approach, including the focus on behavioral health services. The charter amendment requires the city, in conjunction with King County, to deploy a behavioral health rapid-response capability as an alternative, where appropriate, to a law-enforcement crisis response. The amendment also prioritizes addressing factors known to drive the overrepresentation of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color experiencing homelessness.

The proposal also includes structure that supporters say would address concerns around encampments with a network of shelter resources and services:

The amendment further proposes a coordinated plan to move people experiencing homelessness into emergency and permanent housing, instead of living in encampments, including enhanced shelters, tiny houses, hotel-motel rooms and other forms of non-congregate emergency or permanent housing. It requires the city to ensure that “city parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces and sidewalks and streets remain open and clear of encampments” once the programs and services required by the amendment are made available.

The plan also includes a new fund that would drive the proposals by requiring the city to commit at least 12% of its General Fund — around $200 million. Backers point to the newly passed $200M+ JumpStart tax on big businesses and the coming process to sort out how best to spend $239 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds as two possible sources to help start and establish the new effort.

The announcement included an array of support from officials at local business groups, homelessness service providers, and housing providers.

“We’ve seen recently that almost everyone living on our streets is willing to relocate to a hotel room or other lodging that feels secure and leads to permanent housing, not back to the street a week or so later,” Lisa Daugaard, director at Public Defender Association, said. “We’ve also seen that many people have major barriers and need a lot of support, at least initially. This framework offers the promise of actually prioritizing the people who have been left out for so long and making a plan that will reach and sustain them with assistance they welcome.”

“This is the type of approach our members have long advocated for to ensure we can bring more people inside and provide the services they need,” Downtown Seattle Association President and CEO Jon Scholes said.

The proposal emerges as Seattle is pushing forward with a wider reopening after months of COVID-19 restrictions and amid criticism over the city’s handling of people living without shelter and encampments. CHS reported on calls for the city to take emergency actions to provide shelter and services to clear Capitol Hill’s Miller Park of large encampments before the return of in-person classes at the adjacent Meany Middle School campus this month.

In January, three weeks after police led a city sweep of encampments and activists from Cal Anderson, CHS reported on how encampments have grown in other Capitol Hill parks including Miller.

“Our challenges here at the city are not just about CDC guidance,” Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller told attendees of an online neighborhood meeting about the situation. “It is about access to services, it’s access to housing… We don’t have places for people to go and so as a result folks have found other ways to survive through the past year.”

Meanwhile, the Durkan administration opted to forgo millions in potential federal funding for homelessness services and Seattle sweep actions have continued across the city. Public health guidelines advise against sweeps during the COVID-19 crisis if there are no safe shelter alternatives available.

The Durkan administration has touted the pounds of trash collected under a “Clean City” surge program set to end in April that has been focused on “removing trash to begin to set Seattle up for clear road to recovery—for our businesses, schools, neighborhoods, and residents.”

Burgess, meanwhile, has been laying groundwork for the effort. “The tents, dilapidated vehicles, and piles of trash you see in almost every Seattle neighborhood have become an enduring fixture. So has the human suffering,” Burgess wrote in a February op-ed. “We should quickly prioritize addressing these tent encampments and follow the lead of other cities that have successfully tackled this issue,” he concluded.

The next step for the coalition is gathering around 30,000 signatures to put a vote on the charter amendment proposal on the ballot. Expect to see a lot of signature gathering effort in coming weeks — the campaign to recall Kshama Sawant is also gearing up its signature gathering effort following last week’s state Supreme Court decision.

Compassion Seattle is planning to put its vote on Seattle’s November ballot.

Learn more at compassionseattle.org.


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CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
8 days ago

Finally

Russ
Russ
8 days ago

This charter amendment is critical to pass for two reasons –
1. It centralizes our approach to homelessness around goals for housing and treatment – we can’t keep giving millions to whomever shows up at city hall and says they do homelessness outreach. It should be clear to everyone that a decentralized approach of many organizations hasn’t done much and spent nearly the same amount of money yearly as this proposal.
2. We need to say with a clear voice that the city cares about the people living outside and we will help but we are not planning on being the #1 destination in America for people facing homelessness due to addiction. You can get treatment but you can’t set up a meth fort and terrorize the neighborhood. In 2020 23% of unhoused people in King County last had stable housing outside of Washington state which highlights the migration problem we have created, we can’t solve the entire country’s addiction issues and we need to be clear about that.

Caphiller
Caphiller
8 days ago

A nice idea and a welcome addition to the conversation on the encampments issue. I’m in favor of the proposal in theory. However, I worry that the bar to clear in terms of services and housing availability is very high – 2000 units of housing within a year sounds like a lot. Also, is there a requirement that people avail themselves of these city services? Our issue in Seattle doesn’t seem to be lack of services, but rather a refusal to accept drug treatment, etc.

I also worry that sweep opponents will claim that the city hasn’t reached the required level of services provision and thus it’s illegal to move people away from living in our parks, and we’ll have the same problem we always have.

I’d love to be convinced to be more optimistic that this problem will be solved in my lifetime.

slider292
slider292
8 days ago
Reply to  Caphiller

Exactly– the goal posts will never stop moving. When will people realize that the regressive left activists will never be placated? Ever.

Frank
Frank
8 days ago

So Bellevue and other suburbs will keep not doing their part while Seattle takes the burden?

Lee
Lee
8 days ago

So…is this 200 million on top of the scores of millions that are already allocated for homeless services? Or….can it replace some of these in the interest of efficiency and effectiveness of response?

John
John
8 days ago

This feels like a step in the right direction. The plan reflects the need to address mental health and addiction. We have to stop waiting on another level of government to fix our streets.

NotEatingLobster
NotEatingLobster
8 days ago

The city charter is supposed to be more like a constitution for the city to base its laws and procedures on…is this really a good fit for that layer of our legal framework?

Or, is this an end run around our insane city council? Charter amendments go straight to the voters…if so, it’s an indictment of how our current city politics and political leaders are working.

Jon
Jon
8 days ago

Having lived in Seattle for nearly 40 years and seeing how homelessness and crime have increased and how year after year organizations new and old come up with ideas that are supposed to tackle the problem, I’m only seeing the problems get worse. So many promises, so many lies. Significant improvements will not be likely since the world’s homeless are coming to Seattle with one way tickets (often FREE) because there are promises of free housing and assistance. What is being done to discourage the nations homeless to move to Seattle? Are you going to build a house for every person who claims to be homeless in Seattle free and clear? It looks like we’re headed in that direction. Seattle has more organizations that help people in need than any other place I’ve lived and that is what’s attracting the homeless to come here. You’ll need to build much taller skyscrapers to house all of them and you’ll need to keep building forever because there will always be homeless. Do you think the homeless from those cities that claimed to have tackled the homeless problem didn’t move to Seattle? By now it should be pretty clear that the problems in Seattle will not be solved if homeless people from every part of the country are heading to Seattle with one way tickets. When will Sleeping in Seattle wake up?

NKB
NKB
7 days ago
Reply to  Jon

Every systematic survey of homeless people in Seattle finds that they’re no more likely to be transplants than the rest of the population.

C Doom
C Doom
8 days ago

This is still cheaper than building enough jail to hold them all. We have to do something. The protester class has no ideas other than continuing to let them camp.

Jon
Jon
8 days ago
Reply to  C Doom

It would be interesting to see data on how much jail costs vs free everything. How will this program be sustained going forward if the homeless population of the nation and the world keeps moving to Seattle? This organization is asking for this much now, how much more will they ask for next year and the next year and the next as this program attracts more homeless to Seattle until they push the rest of us who have been paying for Seattle all this time out of Seattle? Might be time to let it all go and let the homeless decide. When Seattle is no longer as attractive to the homeless, maybe they will go on their own. Maybe not, just a thought. There’s a reason so many left where they were before. At least come up with rules and guidelines instead of making it a free for all as what it sounds like.

Chris Peterson
Chris Peterson
7 days ago
Reply to  Jon

Jon, respectfully, you’re part of the problem because all you are doing is complaining and I’m not hearing any real solutions. This is why are leaders have been frozen on this issue. Compassion Seattle is offering a structured solution that could begin to actually address the real issues. Perhaps it is not the final solution, perhaps it is adjusted over time as the landscape changes. But finally someone is doing something real, offering a real solution with an actual plan to implement, as opposed to all we have so far which is either A) people standing on the sidelines slinging rocks or B) elected leaders that are afraid to take action to address the problem as whatever action they take will piss off half of their constituents and the people throwing the rocks. I support this group and this plan. It’s a start. It’s a real solution.

RWK
RWK
7 days ago

This plan seems very promising! It’s pathetic that our City government has twiddled its thumbs as the homeless problem gets worse and worse, and that a City Charter amendment is necessary in order to actually get anything done. But kudos to those in the private sector who are spearheading this effort!

Joseph F Drake
Joseph F Drake
6 days ago

This charter amendment will make the problems of those who remain homeless much worse, while perhaps providing housing for a lucky few. while by conservative estimate over 3700 people are unsheltered nightly in Seattle, a number that is growing, this charter amendment would allow sweeps as soon as 2000 more units of some sort of shelter, probably shelter beds or substandard tiny houses without kitchens or bathrooms. Since most or all of the shelter provided under this charter amendment will probably be temporary, even those who get the shelter will wind up back on the streets being “swept”. Let’s stop treating the homeless as garbage to be swept and then calling it compassion.

Chris Peterson
Chris Peterson
5 days ago
Reply to  Joseph F Drake

Okay, so what’s your idea Joseph? I would love to know. Obviously we need to do something, I would think on that we can all agree. This problem became an emergency years ago and it’s only gotten worse. I hear people complain about it non stop. And I hear people criticize any idea that gets tossed out there, but I rarely hear those people offer solutions. Please share your plan, thanks.

LinkRider
LinkRider
2 days ago

Even if we build all the new housing, it seems likely that there will be more homeless or new homeless than can fit, which is when the city would “ensure” that certain types of public spaces are “open and free of encampments. Or would it?

This plan raises the question of whether the handling of encampments is at all Seattle’s decision, since a charter amendment won’t change the 9th Circuit decision – “the court said it was “cruel and unusual punishment” to enforce rules that stop homeless people from camping in public places when they have no place else to go.”

https://www.npr.org/2019/12/16/788435163/supreme-court-wont-hear-case-to-ticket-homeless-for-sleeping-in-public-spaces

I’m not counting on this to really change the picture, but it seems like a good idea to centralize the spending, have a big picture plan for the spending on categories like housing, behavioral health, etc, and have a mental health response team.