Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Give Input On City's' Proposal To Allow Homeless Encampments In Parks, Schools, And Other Public Areas

The City Council is reviewing proposed legislation, Ordinance #124747 authorizing “transitional encampments” on public lands for homeless including parks and green spaces, throughout the City of Seattle, and Council Bill 118794, stating that a 30 day notice for encampments is required on all of the cities public space (including sidewalks). A vote has not yet been scheduled on the latter one.

Citizens can send comments before tomorrow to City Council members listed at the end of the post.

The Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) voted unanimously to oppose the measure at its last meeting.
If approved the proposed legislation would:
  • permit homeless camping on public or City owned property, including Parks and Schools
  • limit the City’s ability to remove tents from sidewalks, unsafe locations and School property as Police officers would need to provide 30 days notice before removing an encampment
  • restrict the City’s ability to address encampments associated with criminal activity

Here is the Council proceedings on the Seattle Channel.

The Laurelhurst Blog received this information from a citizen who attended the City Council meeting yesterday:

The City Council was aggressively trying to proceed with their plans to allow encampments on City-owned public areas for up to 30 days continuous. The only Council member who opposed the legislation was Tim Burgess
Legislation includes among many requirements that the property of individuals who are living in the encampments is to be insured by the City for up to $250. If there are more than 5 people in the encampment, the City is to provide them with facilities such as honey bucket and waste disposal. There was a fair amount of debate over what constitutes a "suitable" encampment, which would be any structure which does not interfere with public ingress or egress and does not pose a safety risk to the camper or to the public. It seemed to be a very broad definition. 
Additionally encampments can pop up in school yards. While they say that technically the School District has the authority to remove encampments, Seattle police are not able to enforce this, as long as the encampment is "suitable." Additionally, the School District does not have its own police force.  So when school is out for the summer, the school yards could very well become tent cities.  
References were made to University of Washington police, State Troopers, WSDOT, and Port of Seattle Police, who may be able to remove tents from the respective properties.   
The most concerning element of the entire discussion was the disregard for public comment.  And the number of emails that the Council has received regarding this ordinance is 10 - 1 opposed. Yet, they are continuing to proceed. They are blatantly choosing not to represent the interests of their constituents.  
There will be a vote tomorrow, September 28th. Given what has transpired I strongly encourage those of you who are opposed to this ordinance to make your voice heard. If the ratio is 20 to 1, 50 to 1, or 100 to 1, it will become harder and harder for the Council members to push this through.  
I believe that this legislation does not solve the problem, it only feeds the problem. There are other solutions, such as having a larger budget to manage mental health issues in the state of Washington or having a tax structure, which allows us to provide the services to the people in this state might help solve this problem.  
Simply allowing people to camp and providing them with Honey Buckets, garbage disposal services and other City services wherever they choose to call their home is not a solution to the problem. On the contrary, it will encourage migration of individuals from Snohomish, Kitsap, and Pierce counties to the city of Seattle where the services will be provided to them and they will have unlimited access to our public Commons, they need only bring their tent and sleeping bag.

Another citizen provided this letter that was recently sent to Magnuson Park tenants:

The City Council is considering legislation which could have a large effect on Magnuson Park and other areas by opening City parks and green spaces to unauthorized camping.  

Unfortunately this is already affecting Magnuson because the controversy and conflict over this policy has had a negative impact because it has allowed City staff to stop giving notice and removing camps including one at Magnuson. .
Until recently park and City policy has been to remove unauthorized camps after giving 72 hours notice, but under the proposed legislation the City would be required to give 30-days notice in most cases and at least 48 hours in cases of "clear hazard."  
A problem is that the impact of camps tends to increase and more vegetation or other infrastructure is damaged as time passes and even a few more days can make a significant difference.  There is also a tendency for camps to increase in size or draw additional campers as time goes on.  
Within Magnuson this has resulted in no notice or action for removal being taken on a new camp located about 200 feet north of NE 65th Street and about 150 feet east of 62nd Avenue NE in the north woodland of the Park's forest remnant zone. This camp has already harmed some of the work done by the hundreds of volunteers who have contributed thousands of hours to restoring the woodland over the past decade and is likely to harm more as time goes on.  
A suspicious number of bicycles of questionable origin are in the camp or concealed in vegetation nearby it. This camp is also close to the problematic parking area on 62nd Avenue NE immediately north of NE 65th St. That parking area which has been an area of concern over the past few months due to suspected drug sales or other criminal activity and some car camping impacts.  
About a month ago a vehicle from there crashed eastward through a fence and downhill into the north woodland leaving behind debris or destroyed and damaged trees and shrubs. A person who passed by while walking a dog described the debris as looking like items likely to have been stolen in smash and grab crimes.  
Keep in mind that future homeless camps won't necessarily be limited to natural areas and could be in other portions of the Park.  
If you have concerns about this proposed legislation please let City Council members know right away.  And if you have concerns about the process of removing camps from the Park having been halted please contact the Mayor.

In a memo signed by a Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole; Catherine Lester, Director of Human Services; Scott Kubly, Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation and others they wrote: 

The proposed legislation does not strike the right balance and would authorize camping throughout the City of Seattle and would open City parks and green space to unauthorized camping. The practical impact of the legislation would be dramatic.  We are deeply concerned about the potential impacts of the proposed legislation.

The proposed legislation would: 

  • dramatically restrict the City’s ability to address unauthorized camping on public property
    inhibit the City’s ability to address tents that block sidewalks or are in unsafe locations
  • prevent the City from removing tents from school property and other public entities’ properties
    limit the City’s ability to address unauthorized tents or derelict vehicles associated with criminal activity
  • cost tens of millions of dollars annually to implement
  • divert resources from the programs that experts say work best to reduce homelessness
    expose the City to significant legal liability

Here are news articles on the proposed legislation: 

Here is contact information for City Council Members: 
Rob Johnson - sponsor of the proposal
Rob.Johnson@seattle.gov and Staff member: Geri.Morris@seattle.gov
Twitter: @CMRobJohnson

Lisa Herbold

Bruce Harrell

Kshama Sawant

Debora Juarez

Mike O'Brien

Sally Bagshaw

Tim Burgess

Lorena Gonzales

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