City City Considers New Homeless Encampment Policies
posted by January 14 at 12:26 PMon
The city is considering new procedures for removing homeless encampments from public property, and allowing city officials to confiscate any property that’s abandoned or deemed “hazardous.” Work on the new protocols started after protests last year, when crews working for the city showed up at 10 camps and cleared them out without notice, confiscating and destroying the property of people living there.
The proposed rules would give homeless people 48 hours to move along (as long as there’s no “evidence of other illegal activity”), an improvement over the previous zero-notice policy. However, it would also apply the city’s much-reviled parks exclusion ordinance, which allows the city to ban people from parks for “rule violations,” including camping, to all other city-owned property in Seattle. The Mark Sidran-era parks exclusion rule allows the city to ban people from public property even if they haven’t committed any crime. The ordinance also allows city officials to deputize “any person or association” they choose to enforce the rules; for example, if the city wanted, they could give the Downtown Seattle Association authority to exclude homeless people from public property near downtown businesses. Even more alarming, the new rules would allow the city to confiscate and destroy any property deemed “hazardous”—a definition that “may include blankets, clothing, sleeping bags, tents, or other soft goods that may be contaminated by unknown substances that may pose a risk of harm to members of the public or to cleanup personnel who come in contact with the material.” As Tim Harris of Real Change puts it on his blog, “What, exactly, would that definition leave out?”
According to the fact sheet put together by the city’s department of Health and Human Services, the new policies are all part of the city’s 10-year campaign to end homelessness.
Working with local partners, the city is implementing the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness by finding permanent housing for homeless people and connecting them with services critical to living independently. The city also has the responsibility to protect the health and safety of the general public and residents—including the homeless people in unauthorized encampments—and enforce city laws. Unauthorized encampments are not an acceptable or humane option for shelter or housing.
I doubt anyone—least of all the people who actually sleep in city parks—would disagree with that last sentiment. On the other hand, last year, the King County Coalition for the Homeless counted 2,159 people camped outside in the middle of the night last January—a four percent increase from 2006. Nearly 1,600 of them were in Seattle. Something tells me that at least some of those folks need more than just “connecting with services” to get off the streets.
The health and human services department will hold a public hearing on the new rules on January 28, at 6 p.m. in the Rainier Room at Seattle Center.