New Seattle Coalition Offers Hope for People, Parks, and Public Spaces

The Ballard Triangle, Seattle

As a City, we need to greatly increase the efficacy of our response to unsheltered homelessness by focusing resources on behavioral health services and emergency and permanent housing. This includes addressing and considering the individual needs of each unsheltered person. By focusing resources in these areas, we can better support individuals and address the conflicts that can arise with encampments and other uses of public space. The City has declared a State of Emergency, and this proposal is the best way to address it as one.

We can do better.

Compassion Seattle

Compassion Seattle, a new coalition of organizations and community leaders has proposed a charter amendment that would compel the city to respond more quickly and effectively to Seattle’s humanitarian crisis. We Heart Seattle encourages our volunteers and followers to support this initiative. Following is reporting about this new initiative with key excerpts and how you can help get this initiative on the ballot.

Proposed charter amendment writes plan for addressing homelessness (sccinsight.com)

The campaign, led by former Councilmember and two-month Mayor Tim Burgess, brings together another unlikely coalition (much like the Third Door Coalition), including the SODO BIA, the Chief Seattle Club, the Public Defender Association, United Way King County, the Housing Development Consortium, Plymouth Housing, FareStart, DESC, Evergreen Treatment Services, and the Downtown Seattle Association.

The charter amendment would create an entirely new Article in the City Charter, called “Provision of Homeless Services.” Across three substantive sections it then lays out what the city’s policy should be for addressing homelessness, and some specific commitments to shelter and services including 2,000 new units of emergency and permanent housing within the first year after the amendment passes. But the new Article also states that the city shall keep parks and other public spaces free of encampments “as emergency and permanent housing are available.”

This does not appear to be bringing back “sweeps.” The text of the proposed amendment makes clear that parks and public spaces should be cleaned up and restored “as emergency and permanent housing are available.” And it’s matched with a very aggressive mandate to expand housing in the first twelve months in order to enable homeless individuals to move from public spaces into appropriate shelter.

Something just shifted in Seattle’s stuck homelessness debate | The Seattle Times
Photo credit: Greg Gilbert, The Seattle Times

“I believe this is a breakthrough,” says Lisa Daugaard, executive director of the Public Defender Association in Seattle.

“This is a tipping point for the city,” agreed Tim Ceis, a business lobbyist who is usually on the opposite side from Daugaard. “We’ve been fighting about this for 10 years. We’re not fighting about it anymore.”

Seattle business and neighborhood leaders launch efforrt to require city to provide services, 2,000 housing units to quell chronic homelessness – Puget Sound Business Journal
People living under a bridge in downtown Seattle

“We need a greater sense of urgency. We need to be investing, particularly in the services we know that are critical to addressing the needs of people … and we need to move at a much faster pace when it comes to standing up temporary, emergency housing,” Scholes said.

Results from a poll conducted by EMC Research Jan. 31-Feb. 3 showed 71% of Seattle voters support 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 law-enforcement crisis response.

Initiative seeks to force Seattle to fund homeless housing and then clear camps – GeekWire
Photo credit: GeekWire / John Cook

In an effort to overhaul Seattle’s approach to its homeless crisis, a coalition of downtown business leaders and non-profit representatives on Thursday introduced a citywide ballot measure to force the city to fund a battery of services and shelters for thousands of the town’s unsheltered residents.

Called the “Compassion Seattle” charter amendment, the initiative also would require the city to keep “parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces and sidewalks and streets clear of encampments” once the mandated housing, drug, and mental health services are in place.

If approved by Seattle voters, the amendment essentially bypasses the City Council and, for the first time, adds specific benchmarks and responsibilities to Seattle’s sometimes confusing, competing and decentralized array of homeless services and programs.

What Does the Compassion Seattle Initiative Do?

It will accomplish 10 primary and urgent outcomes—

  • Requires the City government to work to end chronic homelessness and racial disparities in the homeless population and pursue the goal that no one should have to live outdoors in public spaces. The City shall collaborate and partner to ensure successful outcomes and support an innovative and effective regional service network.
  • Requires behavioral health programs and services to be offered in combination with access to housing in enhanced shelters, tiny houses, hotel-motel rooms, and other forms of non-congregate emergency or permanent housing.
  • Requires the City within six months of the effective date of the Charter amendment to provide an additional 1,000 units of emergency and permanent housing and within one year of the adoption of the amendment to provide another 1,000 units, a total of 2,000 units within 12 months.
  • 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 defined by the amendment are made available.
  • Requires the City to help fund the deployment of a behavioral health rapid-response field capability as a non-law enforcement crisis response option.
  • Requires the City by contracting with King County to help fund low-barrier, rapid-access mental health and substance use disorder treatment services with a focus on those who are chronically homeless and face the greatest barriers to engagement with these services.
  • Requires the City to establish a Human Services Fund to support program and services offered by the City and to place in this Fund not less than 12 percent of the City’s annual general fund revenues, any grants, gifts and bequests for human service purposes received from the general public, businesses and philanthropy, and any other such moneys as may be provided by ordinance.
  • Requires the City to identify and address factors known to drive the overrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and People of Color among those experiencing chronic homelessness through culturally competent services and workforce standards.
  • Requires the City, to the extent permitted by state law, during a declared civil emergency related to homelessness, to accelerate the production of emergency and permanent housing, by waiving land use code requirements as necessary, waive all City project-related permitting fees, receive all applications for project-related permits as “first-in-line” applications, and refund the City’s portion of the sales tax related to the construction or remodeling of emergency and permanent housing.
  • Requires the City to fully support, advance and invest in the regional governmental homelessness authority.
We Heart Seattle encourages our volunteers and followers to support this initiative. Learn more about how to get involved here: Volunteer to Support the Initiative

Volunteer with We Heart Seattle

We Heart Seattle is a boots on the ground, grassroots community effort to promote effective use of city and privately funded resources to make Seattle beautiful and safe for all to enjoy.

Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in. We Heart Seattle volunteers have helped 20 people get off the streets and into better situations while also removing over 20,000 pounds of trash from Seattle parks and public spaces.

Join the conversation on Facebook and learn how to participate in our weekly outreach and litter pick efforts. Or add your name to our mailing list and see our new calendar feature for details about our volunteer events. 

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