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Monday, January 14, 2008

City Considers New Homeless Encampment Policies

posted by on January 14 at 12:26 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments


While they're at it - could they go ahead and exterminate them?

Posted by stu | January 14, 2008 1:25 PM

Doesn't look like anyone is taking the bait stu.

Posted by Rotten666 | January 14, 2008 1:52 PM

What's the alternative? More to the point, who's going to pay for the alternative?

Posted by mattymatt | January 14, 2008 1:54 PM

I bet that meeting is packed.

Posted by ecce homo | January 14, 2008 1:54 PM

It's all about the ultra-rich.

And as to who will pay - we middle class citizens will pay, not the ultra-rich who get more than their fair share of services.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 14, 2008 2:03 PM

“…the city’s much-reviled parks exclusion ordinance…”

Reviled by whom exactly? Are you reporting or is this an opinion piece?

If they would clean the bums out of the Metro system next we might eventually have a livable city.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | January 14, 2008 2:05 PM


Right… Because the ultra rich yearn to escape the oppressive confines of their palatial compounds to hang out in the park at Third and Yesler, and as soon as they run the bums off, they will be able to realize that dream.

Those damn ultra rich and their passion for loitering in public spaces…

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | January 14, 2008 2:20 PM

@6--does it have to be strictly objective for ECB to be reporting on it? Plus, I think it's safe to bet that those excluded from the parks because of the ordinance revile it.

@3--there was a great article in last week's paper about a study that found that the city saves money by housing homeless people. In a nutshell, the costs of certain housing programs is more than outweighed by the savings in areas like healthcare, jail, etc.

I think the city's going to face legal challenges to this proposal. There are a number of concerning issues: deputizing citizens, the definition of confiscatably property and the potential of being excluded from ALL public property. I'm not saying that the city doesn't need to work on this issue, just that the solution is a bit problematic.

Posted by Gidge | January 14, 2008 2:25 PM

Raiding encampments while phasing out money for shelters is cruel. "Unauthorized encampments" are more acceptable and humane than nothing. What's more Orwellian than protecting the health and safety of homeless people by stealing their tents and sleeping bags?

Posted by Trevor | January 14, 2008 2:31 PM

The city is being unnecessarily draconian how they're doing it, but we can agree that it is a legitimate public interest to not have semipermanent encampments on public property.

Posted by Greg | January 14, 2008 2:31 PM

It would proabably be better to monitor the Parks before they become semi-permanent homeless camps.
I get the thinking on the 48 hour notice but, isn't it a double standard?
Are the rest of us getting get out jail cards when we break some city code?
Lastly, I worry that the limited city staff will just end up following a crowd from one park to another and cleaning up after them.

Posted by Zander | January 14, 2008 2:37 PM

a one way bus ticket back to your hometown is humane, too.

Posted by max solomon | January 14, 2008 2:40 PM

@4: It doesn't sound like many Sloggers are going to that meeting.

Posted by J.R. | January 14, 2008 2:45 PM


...there was a great article in last week's paper about a study that found that the city saves money by housing homeless people.

Too true. Unfortunately, there are problems with upfront cost and political will. It costs a lot of money to build housing and good luck getting politicians to commit to it.

Posted by keshmeshi | January 14, 2008 3:21 PM

ECB says "Something tells me that at least some of those folks need more than just “connecting with services” to get off the streets." So what's your suggestion Erica? A can of ravioli and a pup tent pitched next to a playground? If "connecting with services" and permanent housing isn't the compassionate answer - than what is?

Posted by Lionel Hutz | January 14, 2008 3:29 PM

No, my solution IS permanent housing -- along with temporary shelter housing as a stopgap. My point, and perhaps I didn't make it clearly enough, was that we currently DON'T have enough permanent housing nor funding for enough permanent housing in the immediate future. And without permanent housing (and temporary housing as a stopgap), giving someone access to detox or mental-health or other services is an empty promise.

Posted by ECB | January 14, 2008 3:39 PM

ECB, where's the line for free permanent housing? Everyone wants to get in it.

If the scale of the problem is 2,000 people camped outside in the winter, then projects like the 240 units of transitional housing that Common Ground is going to build at Sand Point over the next 2 years are a pitiful joke.

This city is NOT going to build 2000 units of "Permanent Housing" for the homeless. The will is not there despite the "10-year plan" lip service.

Posted by max solomon | January 14, 2008 3:59 PM

two words for ya:

soylent green

Posted by michael strangeways | January 14, 2008 4:08 PM

You know, this has nothing to do with "political will" or bad priorities. The fact of it is, there are a hard core of homeless people who are either too strung out or too crazy to access even low-barrier services. The only facilities that will serve those people adequately and safely are in-patient facilities with trained medical staff. Those kinds of facilities are incredibly expensive to maintain and audit. Think $100-$150,000 per person per year.

Local governments don't have the money to serve that population. Period. Those people used to be served by the federal government and, indeed, the federal government is the only branch of government that can effectively serve this population because any local government that creates permanent programs for these people risks not only bankrupting itself on a social spending project that shows negligible returns, but also becoming a magnet city for the mentally ill.

If we're not going to treat the mentally ill chronically homeless, the next best option for a local government is to set a minimum standard for outpatient services and then criminalize all other behaviors relating to homelessness. That essentially allows local governments to create de facto in-patient facilities in low-security local jails and detention facilities. This is a good strategy because, while the Fed refuses to support in-patient programs for homeless people, they are more than willing to give block grants to jails.

In sum: in the current political climate, the best options for treating mentally ill chronically homeless people is to criminalize them.

If you guys weren't so busy pouring out your bleeding hearts, you'd realize that.

Posted by Judah | January 14, 2008 4:13 PM

Boy, I'd really look forward to suing any group the City of Seattle decides to enforce the rules back to the stone age. Couple of high profile lawsuits against a City-sanctioned minion, and I really doubt there would be that many volunteers.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | January 14, 2008 4:54 PM

I like that idea of a oneway bus ticket.

Send them to LA, San Diego, San Fransisco.

Even Phoenix would be affordable. Just get them out of here. It isn't "gritty" to run into a dirt bag beating off in the park. It's disgusting and disturbing.

Oh, and it was one of these pieces of human garbage that murdered Shannon. Should we embrace these useless bum's even if it means that some of us get murdered for our troubles?

Posted by ecce homo | January 14, 2008 6:45 PM

Ecce, when you were in Harborview, did we buy you a bus ticket? No. We got you signed up with that nice social service lady, who got you some dentures and diapers and the nice studio apartment in Auburn.

Now you have some lovely medicines (when you remember to take them) and plenty of room for your unicorn and rainbow collection.

But for the Grace of God goes ye, Ecce....

Posted by catalina vel-duray | January 14, 2008 7:17 PM

I want effective treatment and care for the mentally ill and homeless and I want to be able to go to our parks and have pleasant time. I am more than willing to pay more in taxes for this.

We need to build more facilities and provide more treatment to the mental ill and we need to do this even if they don't want it. Mental illness of the severe kind renders one incapable of exercising judgment and in that case the sate should step in to compel treatment.

The idea that we should respect the decision of the mentally ill to live in squalor is nonsense.

Lets treat the mentally ill, provide services to the disadvantaged and make our parks places that are actually nice places to go.

Posted by Giffy | January 14, 2008 8:02 PM

"The idea that we should respect the decision of the mentally ill to live in squalor is nonsense."

It's also a Republican talking point. They're too cheap and selfish to spend the money to give people the care they need, but dressing it up like that makes them sound compassionate. At least to them, and the morons who vote Republican.

Posted by Republicans suck | January 14, 2008 8:33 PM

Zander @11: I would compare the 48 hour notice to a health inspector who finds a minor (again: minor, not gross-out barf inducing) violation at a restaurant and gives the owner time to fix it. If the owner fixes it, fine; if not, then slap a whopping fine on them until they do.

Judah @19: I agree with you that there are really hard core homeless who cannot realistically live independently because of severe mental health or addiction issues. I don't have any solutions; if I did I'd run for mayor. But some homeless people are not only employable but are in fact employed. Many in the vastly shrinking middle class (thanks again, Mr President!) are one layoff or medical emergency away from the street. If the city was serious about doing something about homelessness they would encourage developers by carrot and/or stick to put up housing that average people can actually afford, not the gazillion dollar condos that are springing up like fungus on practically every corner.

Finally, ecce @21, one does not make a noun plural by adding an apostrophe and the letter s as you did in your use of the word "bum's". You probably should have learned that in one of the years you spent in the third grade.

Posted by RainMan | January 14, 2008 9:36 PM

@14, this is why it will never happen here. everyone in seattle is a spineless piece of shit when it comes to commitment to improving seattle. "not on my dime" they all say.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 15, 2008 12:42 AM

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