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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!

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)

Act now to save parks and the environment

“We have two crises — parks and homelessness. We must solve them both. But we cannot expect to solve the one crisis on the back of the other.” Thatcher Bailey, former president and CEO, Seattle Parks Foundation

The human tragedies playing out in our parks are being compounded as the environment and beloved parks and green spaces are being overrun, deeply damaged, and needlessly sacrificed. These are the consequences of a serious abdication of our region’s responsibility to protect both people and our environment. We need to act now to preserve and protect our urban forests, wildlife, and our most environmentally sensitive waterways. 

Related stories:

Seattle Parks: A “Spiraling Crisis” (Post Alley)

It’s time for a true emergency response

We know what to do. Every year communities all across America effectively respond to homelessness caused by floods, fires, and earthquakes. In the same way, we can create and utilize safe bridge shelter options such as hotel rooms, tiny home villages, Pallet shelters, and sanctioned tent communities in thousands of non-parks properties available in King County to quickly provide affordable, voluntary, safe shelter. In a parallel effort, let’s rapidly build out Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for the chronically homeless in our communities. A key to the success and acceptance of this solution is that welcoming communities can once again enjoy clean, safe, and healthy parks and public spaces.

Related stories:

Moving homeless people to hotels slowed virus spread in King Co., study finds

‘Brutal news’: Seattle hotels have lowest occupancy on West Coast amid pandemic

Everett-based company builds ‘Pallet’ shelters to help address homeless crisis nationwide

New database: Room for thousands of affordable homes on Seattle, King County land

The Home and Hope database, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shows hundreds of surplus properties in King County

A fifteen year history of our expanding homeless crisis and a call for a true emergency response

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else — Winston Churchill

Seattle is one of the most educated, wealthy and generous places in the United States. Every year, the residents of King County spend over $1 billion on homelessness. In the City of Seattle spending has more than quintupled to a budged $167 million for 2021. Which makes it all the more difficult for community members to understand how we could have created, or failed to prevent, one of the the worst homeless crisis in the country.

Solutions are as complex and varied as the reasons that people become homeless in the first place. But the one thing that everyone who is homeless has in common is they lack shelter and many now lack any place to go where they can be supported with the basics of a warm space, hygiene services and a supportive community.

We believe it is time for a true emergency response to this crisis. We know what to do. We need to create safe, warm and hygienic, voluntary bridge shelter options such as hotel rooms, tiny home villages, pallet shelters, and sanctioned tent communities in some of the many non-parks properties available in King County. In a parallel effort, let’s rapidly build out Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for the chronically homeless in our communities. A key to the success and acceptance of this solution is that welcoming communities regain their clean, safe, and healthy parks and public spaces.

Sign the petition on change.org

Following is a 15 year history of goals set, efforts made, and what has so far been an ever-expanding crisis.

20052015 The Ten Year Plan to to End Homelessness fails
In 2005 King County initiated a ‘Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness‘. After ten years homelessness was growing out of control. The most visible symbol of the ten year plan’s failure was a squalid, dangerous encampment under I-5 in called “The Jungle”.

2007-2020 The “Boise Decision” creates a legal obligation to provide shelter
Courts rule, that communities cannot require a person to move from a public space if no other shelter is available.

2015 Seattle and King County declare a ‘state of emergency’
As the homelessness crisis grew, King County and Seattle declared a ‘state of emergency’. But the crisis is never treated as a true emergency.

2015 — Seattle seeks advice from consultant and national expert Barbara Poppe
Poppe and Associates recommend the city “act now, act strategically and act decisively” to address the homelessness crisis. The Pathways Home Report recommendations are organized into three categories: (1) Create a person-centered crisis response system, (2) Improve program/system performance and accountability and (3) Implement well, with urgency.

The Jungle

2016 “The Jungle” a massive encampment under I-5 becomes dangerous and is cleared.
After over 70 calls for emergency services, five shootings and two murders, an official conditions assessment is made of the encampment. The report concludes that “Conditions within the assessment area present significant public health, fire, safety, structural, and environmental risks”.

2018 — Audit highlights KC failings: scattered oversight and no overarching authority
The audit of King County’s operations highlights the way the region is failing to adequately respond to one of the nation’s most acute homelessness crises. Included in the audit is a response from King County, in which its Department of Community and Human Services pledges to implement changes over the next few years.

2018 — KC health professionals recommend a FEMA style response
The three health officials on the public board are urging it to declare homelessness a “public health disaster” and advise local jurisdictions to respond accordingly — including potentially deploying large scale FEMA-style tents as emergency shelter before the winter. Seattle Times

2018 — New database identifies thousands of surplus land parcels available in King County
The new database identifies thousands of land parcels that are already public property or owned by nonprofits. While many of those plots may already be in use, a new tool shown before a city council committee Thursday morning could help quickly locate those that could be repurposed or developed into desperately needed affordable housing. Seattle P-I

2018 — The Third Door Coalition sets a goal of housing 3,500 chronically homeless
Calling themselves the Third Door Coalition — an alternative to the two sides of the head tax fight, they say — the group has set a lofty goal of moving King County’s more than 3,500 chronically homeless residents off the streets and into permanent housing. “Solving chronic homelessness in a five year time period isn’t idly talking,” MacKay said “It’s applying the things we already know about what works and figuring out how to expedite those in a number of different ways to make that a reality.”  Crosscut

2019 — After the head tax debacle a new Regional Homeless Authority is created
The new authority will focus on unifying and coordinating the homeless response system for Seattle and King County. This will include coordination of all outreach, diversion, shelter, rapid re-housing, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing services and some of the region’s prevention efforts. 

2020 — To prevent the spread of COVID-19, shelter residents begin camping in parks
Given little direction or meaningful support, people who had been living in congregate shelters begin homesteading in parks, green belts and public spaces.

Calling the situation in many of Seattle’s large parks “a spiraling public-health and public-safety crisis,” more than a dozen business and neighborhood groups sent a letter Monday to the mayor and City Council lobbying them to act. Scores of tents have cropped up at parks across Seattle, the letter said, also arguing there has been an uptick in trash, drug use, violence and maintenance problems in outdoor spaces. The letter asked Durkan and the council to create an interdepartmental team to address the mounting challenges “These issues are complex, but that does not absolve the city of responsibility,” the letter said. Seattle Times

2020 — Solutions continue to be discussed, debated and implemented at a scale that does not match the need

Once derided as ‘shacks,’ these huts now may be our best answer for a homelessness emergency | The Seattle Times In two afternoons, Constantino and other outreach workers were able to move 10 of the people from the park into tiny houses at three different villages, in Georgetown, the Central Area and the Rainier Valley. 

An Everett company’s tiny homeless shelters pop up in Portland, more cities across U.S. | The Seattle Times In April of 2019, Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda hosted a high-profile demonstration of the shelters on the steps of city hall: Employees assembled a shelter pod in 20 minutes and Mosqueda toured them while TV crews filmed. 

New approach to sheltering homeless people during COVID-19 in Seattle shows signs of success, but funding in peril | The Seattle Times They hope to demonstrate that with the right supports — and attractive alternatives to sleeping outside — people will voluntarily leave encampments that have caused problems for neighbors and businesses and use the hotel rooms as starting points to stabilize their lives. “JustCare is a thoughtful and timely investment in a coordinated response to people experiencing homelessness,” Downtown Seattle Association Vice-President Don Blakeney said in a statement. “By providing access to hotel and motel rooms, JustCare can work with people in a safe and stable environment.” King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the county council’s budget chair, also stressed the potential health emergency posed by looming winter temperatures and flu season. 

Sign the petition on change.org