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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. 

Sign and share the petition and help us reach the 20,000 supporter milestone!

We Heart Seattle gets the official 501(c)(3) nod from the IRS

PRESS RELEASE – August 25, 2021

We Heart Seattle has received IRS approval as a tax exempt 501(c)3
organization. Since the first ad hoc trash picks in September 2020, We Heart Seattle
has attracted hundreds of volunteers and collected more than 250,000 pounds of trash and needles at approximately 80 events and pop-ups throughout the city. The group has also assisted 50 individuals with alternative housing arrangements and connected countless others to much needed services and resources.

We Heart Seattle founder and executive director Andrea Suarez commented “We have been very fortunate to enjoy generous support from the community. The IRS approval of our 501(c)(3) status will really help us ramp up operations and scale our work.”

We Heart Seattle welcomes collaboration with anyone and everyone in their effort to make Seattle beautiful and safe for all.

Andrea Suarez, Executive Director, We Heart Seattle 
andrea@weheartseattle.org

Website: www.WeHeartSeattle.org 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/weheartseattle 

WHS Events: www.facebook.com/groups/weheartseattle/events

We Heart Seattle helps community reactivate historic park and greenbelt

PRESS RELEASE – August 23, 2021

We Heart Seattle gathered with community members on Saturday, Aug 21st to celebrate the reactivation of MacLean Park and the greenbelt trails located on the east side of Queen Anne. Over the last eight weeks, volunteers have worked tirelessly to clear more than 50,000 pounds of trash, needles and bulky debris from abandoned encampments and illegal dumping in this area. Their work was complicated by the steep terrain and several arson attacks on the bagged trash awaiting pick-up by the City on Aurora Avenue. But perseverance paid off, and close to 40 community members of all ages and even a few lucky dogs joined the celebratory trail walk on Sunday (picking trash along the way, of course!). See the fruits of the We Heart Seattle-led community effort here.

Queen Anne resident and We Heart Seattle Board member Chris Longston joined the community event and commented “Having seen the park and trails before the clean-up, it was amazing to see today what an action-based, boots-on-the-ground community movement can accomplish.” Chris went on to add “Going forward, we need to be vigilant in maintaining the area and continue to press the City for engagement.”

We Heart Seattle welcomes collaboration with anyone and everyone in their effort to make Seattle beautiful and safe for all. To date, the group has organized more than 80 clean-up events across the city and is adding more to their calendar weekly.

Andrea Suarez, Executive Director, We Heart Seattle 
andrea@weheartseattle.org

Website: www.WeHeartSeattle.org 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/weheartseattle 

WHS Events: www.facebook.com/groups/weheartseattle/events

We Heart Seattle’s boots-on-the-ground approach makes a difference, day by day, needle by needle

PRESS RELEASE – August 2, 2021  

We Heart Seattle hosted another weekend clean-up on Sunday at the NE Queen Anne Greenbelt trail. More than 40 volunteers continued the painstaking work of reclaiming this once lush area from years of illegal dumping and neglect. Clocking in 1,000+ labor hours to date at this site alone, We Heart Seattle collected an additional 6,800 pounds of trash (bringing the total at this site to more than 40,000 pounds) along with some 1,000+ needles. See the fruits of We Heart Seattle’s hard work here.

We Heart Seattle founder and Executive Director Andrea Suarez commented “We are all compassionate members of the community with a bias for action. We plan to keep showing up in parks and public spaces across the city to make a difference.”  Indeed, over this past weekend, We Heart Seattle volunteers were also hard at work picking litter at Green Lake and removing graffiti at the Lake City Mini-Park.

We Heart Seattle welcomes collaboration with anyone and everyone in their effort to make Seattle beautiful and safe for all. To date, the group has organized more than 80 clean-up events across the city and is adding more to their calendar weekly.  

Andrea Suarez, Executive Director, We Heart Seattle 
andrea@weheartseattle.org

Website: www.WeHeartSeattle.org 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/weheartseattle 

WHS Events: www.facebook.com/groups/weheartseattle/events

We Heart Seattle keeps showing up, looking to make a difference in our public spaces

We Heart Seattle was back at work this weekend clearing thousands more pounds of trash and needles from the NE Queen Anne Greenbelt trail.  Over the past few weeks, this all-volunteer group has cleared more than 35,000 pounds of trash from this site alone, a fraction of which you can see here.   

We Heart Seattle is actively seeking help from City stakeholders to support citizen-led clean-up efforts and is powered by the civic engagement their clean-up events are encouraging.  We Heart Seattle founder and Executive Director Andrea Suarez commented “We are all just compassionate members of the community with a bias for action. We plan to keep showing up in parks like MacLean and the Greenbelt, making a difference.”  

Through their tireless boots on the ground presence in this area, We Heart Seattle established relationships with two individuals who had been living in the Greenbelt – both of whom were recently connected with low-income housing.  

We Heart Seattle welcomes collaboration with anyone and everyone in their effort to make Seattle beautiful and safe for all. To date, the group has organized more than 80 clean-up events across the city and is adding more to their calendar weekly.  

Andrea Suarez, Executive Director, We Heart Seattle 
andrea@weheartseattle.org

Website: www.WeHeartSeattle.org 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/weheartseattle 

WHS Events: www.facebook.com/groups/weheartseattle/events

We Heart Seattle continues massive clean-up of historic greenbelt in NE Queen Anne

PRESS RELEASE – July 19, 2021 

We Heart Seattle, a volunteer grassroots organization dedicated to making Seattle beautiful and safe for all, was back in action this weekend. Starting at the historic MacLean Park trailhead, some 30 volunteers fanned out down the NE Queen Anne Greenbelt trail all the way to Aurora Ave N.  This latest effort comes after numerous clean-ups in recent weeks, bringing the total debris removed from this site to almost 30,000 pounds, a fraction of which you can see piled here for pick-up.

Local business owners and residents have long pressed the City to take action against the illegal dumping, open drug use, and unsafe conditions in this area. While coordinated action by City stakeholders to restore this once-green oasis would be welcome, We Heart Seattle is galvanized by the civic engagement their clean-up events are encouraging.  We Heart Seattle founder and Executive Director Andrea Suarez commented “This is a tricky site because of the steep terrain and sheer volume of debris but we are truly reclaiming the green space and working to provide safe trails for our community.”

Through their tireless boots on the ground presence in this area, We Heart Seattle also established relationships with the only two individuals living full time in the Greenbelt – both of whom were connected with low-income housing last week.

We Heart Seattle welcomes collaboration with anyone and everyone in their effort to make Seattle beautiful and safe for all. To date, the group has organized more than 80 clean-up events across the city and is adding more to their calendar weekly. 

 

Andrea Suarez, Executive Director, We Heart Seattle 
andrea@weheartseattle.org

Website: www.WeHeartSeattle.org 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/weheartseattle 

WHS Events: www.facebook.com/groups/weheartseattle/events

These new proposals and plans need community support to become reality

Share the petition and help us reach the 20,000 supporter milestone!

As our petition has quickly gained over 9,000 supporters, community leaders have stepped up with proposals to meaningfully address the humanitarian crisis that has been unfolding in Seattle for years.

Councilmember Lewis proposes building 800 new tiny homes in 2021

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who chairs the city’s homelessness committee, has developed a bold new proposal to quickly add 800 tiny homes in twenty new “villages” in Seattle in 2021. These villages would become a pathway to permanent housing for thousands of people in the coming years. 

This interview with Councilmember Andrew Lewis and Leo Flor, Director, King County Department of Community & Human Services provides an excellent overview of the state of homelessness and the response in Seattle and King County.

Former Seattle Mayor and Councilmember, Tim Burgess, offers a constructive path forward

Former Mayor Burgess’ entire post is well worth reading. Following are excerpts of some of the key points in his post, Tent Encampments Are Here to Stay Unless…

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.

We should quickly prioritize addressing these tent encampments and follow the lead of other cities that have successfully tackled this issue. Since 2015, when the mayor declared a homelessness emergency, we have spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars — and there are success stories to tell — but, tragically, there is no comprehensive plan to remove these illegal encampments or to help those living in them. Not now. Not any time this year or next. Not in five years. They are essentially permanent.

Is this [proposal] all a pie-in-the-sky fantasy? Could we actually serve our unsheltered and chronically homeless population better? The answer is absolutely “yes” because other cities have already done it. Look at Bakersfield-Kern County, California. Or Bergen County, New Jersey. Or Abilene, Texas. Each of these jurisdictions — along with more than 75 others across the country — joined Community Solutions, a national nonprofit organization, and rigorously followed their step-by-step process to reduce the unsheltered homeless population. It is a successful model Seattle should follow, and quickly.

A plan like this can eliminate unsafe encampments and start hundreds of individuals on a path to safe, stable, and healthier lives. Wouldn’t that be worth it?

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. 

Sign and share the petition and help us reach the 20,000 supporter milestone!

Five years before the pandemic it was a ‘state of emergency’. Now it is beyond words.

For decades, Seattle had a reputation for being one of the most caring, beautiful and clean cities in the world. Today there are no words to adequately describe what Seattle has become. Even the photographs below cannot come close to capturing the scale of the crisis that continues to unfold here. There are now thousands of people living in parks, under bridges, in greenbelts, on sidewalks and in vehicles in cold, wet, rat-infested squalor.

In 2016, hundreds of people lived in squalor in”The Jungle” under Interstate 5

For 15 years the response to this crisis has failed to meet the need. In 2015, five years before the pandemic, Seattle and King County declared a homelessness ‘state of emergency’. In 2016 Seattle hired a renowned national expert consultant on homelessness. She told Seattle to “Act now, act strategically and act decisively”. In 2018, three health professionals on the King County board of health recommended a FEMA style response to the growing ‘public health disaster’. In 2019 King County and Seattle agreed to create a regional homelessness authority. In 2020 Seattle defunded the homeless outreach team that offered services to people in the hundreds of improvised unsanctioned encampments throughout the city.

No one in Seattle should be living in these conditions. We invite you to sign the petition calling for a true emergency response to this humanitarian crisis.

Denny Park

Denny Park – December 2020
Denny Park – December 2020

Ballard Commons Park

Ballard Commons Park – December 2020

Albert Davis Park

Albert Davis Park – December 2020

Green Lake and Woodland Parks

Downtown Seattle

Please sign the petition to protect people, parks, and our shared environment

After years of benign neglect its time to finally treat homelessness as the humanitarian crisis that it truly is

by Kay Smith-Blum

I have been an active member of our community since the early ‘80s, raising millions for education and many worthy causes as well as serving as a public official (Seattle School board 2009-13). In my four-plus decades in Seattle, I have never been more disappointed in our city and county leadership. Our neighbors are dying on our streets, suffering from drug addiction and the various substantive issues that surround chronic homelessness and yet our leaders spend millions of dollars on solutions that never scale to meet the need of individuals or the greater community.

The situation MUST be treated as the humanitarian emergency that it is. It is long past time for our region to coordinate a response to our neighbors in crisis, a crisis declared as an emergency in 2015.

If we want a better outcome, we need a new approach. A better approach starts with an immediate response to the most basic of human needs.

If we take these three steps now, we can dramatically improve the lives of those currently living in our greater community:

1. King County and Seattle should immediately designate land for sanctioned encampments with the intent of creating safe places to live while working to transition people into long term housing. We have the land. Surplus properties were identified in this article in 2018: New database: Room for thousands of affordable homes on Seattle, King County land These legal encampments must be established at sites (whenever possible) near services. An alternative/additional solution could be public/private partnerships utilizing the abundance of empty warehouses and other buildings in Seattle. These legal encampments must be managed by Seattle nonprofits that have experience in this arena. Folks should be given a choice of locations when at all possible.

2. To meet the needs of residents, these essential services should be made available at all sanctioned encampments:

Photo Credit: Genna Martin / SeattlePI.com
  • Coordinated registry (as recommended by national expert Barbara Poppe) that identifies the needs and history of residents and determines the best pathway to permanent housing.
  • Medical clinic referrals
  • Drug and mental health services 
  • Restrooms and showers
  • Solid waste dumpsters
  • Lockers for secure storage of possessions
  • Adequate security for the protection of camp residents and the surrounding community

3. The city must remove all unsanctioned encampments and allow everyone in the community to enjoy public spaces once again. Is there any truly great city in the world that employs Seattle’s strategy of homesteading in parks, greenbelts and on sidewalks? Given the alternatives we have available, there is no moral justification for this system of willful neglect. And the presence of hundreds of unsanctioned encampments on our sidewalks creates serious safety issues (ADA violations) for people with disabilities who cannot pass without stepping into busy automobile traffic.

4. We need to scale up and speed up the implementation of long term solutions. We know the long term solutions exist: requiring impact fees from developers to fund low income housing, city funded work force housing, requiring REAL affordable units within ANY and ALL apartment developments in the future and other short term strategies, such as hotel rooms and Tiny Houses, should be pursued immediately to house our neighbors in transition and create a pathway for both permanent housing and employment as well as rehabilitation where needed.

I urge our Seattle, King County and our greater community to take decisive action now.

Act now to save lives

Thousands of people are fighting to survive in cold, wet weather in city parks and green spaces at a time when thousands of clean, warm, and hygienic indoor spaces are available in King County. Tragically, many people suffering in unhealthy, unsanitary conditions are dying of neglect. We can and must do better.

Related stories:

Medical Examiner’s Office-investigated deaths among people living homeless (kingcounty.gov)

Homeless deaths continue to rise in King County (Real Change)

Number Of Homeless Deaths Investigated In King County Rises (Patch.com)