City mulls ending unsanctioned homeless camp removals

KOMO Photo

SEATTLE -- Members of the Seattle City Council will consider ending unsanctioned homeless camp removals by introducing a Proviso in the city's budget that would remove funding for the sweeps.

The Proviso introduced by Council member Kshama Sawant would curtail all spending and city staff time on the removal of unauthorized encampments on public land "except on school property, active rights of way such as roads and sidewalks, and active parks" and in areas considered to be a hazard to safety.

The Proviso would be lifted after passage of "legislation guaranteeing human rights of unauthorized encampment inhabitants".

The city removed and cleaned up 135 unauthorized encampments from January to mid-August 2017 at a cost of $4.36 million.

"The many, many hundreds of homeless sweeps are not working, they are ineffective at solving homelessness and they are also inhumane," says Sawant.

The Proviso defines a sweep as the "removing inhabitants and personal belongings, or providing administrative, security, or contracting support to such removals."

Sawant wants an estimated $2 million budgeted for 2018 unauthorized encampment removals to go to more social services for homeless living in unsanctioned encampments. The services would include sanitation, law enforcement, trash removal and outreach services.

Sawant says its "talk is just talk, with the budget it's action."

"Let's put a condition in the budget where we stop these sweeps until the city figures out a humane and effective approach to dealing with homelessness," says Sawant.

Edward Hall likes the idea and believes homeless camps like the one he was setting up on a City of Seattle right-of-way underneath several high-voltage power lines in SoDo should be allowed to stay.

"You need someplace to live," says the out-of-work computer technician who couldn't afford a shared $1,800-a-month apartment in Capitol Hill.

"If you are going to live there and make it your own, make it your house, your place, make it clean, make it neat, they shouldn't bother you," he said.

He's become a de-facto leader of a small community of six tents. He was part of a sweep in the U-District earlier this year and believes sweeps are "inhumane".

"They just bring a bulldozer in and grab everything and push it away," says Hall. "Then tell you have seven days to go get it. That's not right."

Hall's camp has been the site of other homeless camps and RV squatters for the last several years says Todd Biesold, the Chief Financial Officer of Melino Foods.

The camp is about 50 yards from Melino's employee parking lot.

"It's not a good idea," says Beisold. "Camps don't exist in a vacuum, they don't just impact the residents in the camps but the people who work and live around them."

He says the city leaders are turning a blind eye to the problems unsanctioned camps pose and letting them existing with social services isn't a solution.

"We've noticed that when the camps come that our water bill goes up," says Beisold about water theft from outside faucets. "We've gone to the trouble of putting interior shut offs for our water."

The Budget Committee will eventually vote on the city's new budget in the coming weeks before it's sent to Mayor Tim Burgess.

"The need to continue to find options for low income housing and help these people get off the streets," said Biesold. "The camps are not an option."

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