About Those Encampments

The Seattle City Council deserves our congratulations. On Tuesday, September 6, they voted to do their job. Granted, this was over the protestations of the current administration, but frankly, this was a good move. 

At the end of 2015, a state of emergency was declared regarding our homelessness crisis in the Seattle area. Since then, we have continued to see more aggressive sweeping of people and their belongings, the million-dollar fence proposal, and much consternation about the process of how we do sweeps (politely referred to as "cleanups"). Time and again, our city council members have clearly stated that the current process - minimal notice and little to no meaningful outreach - is not working. 

But we're still doing it. The Seattle Times produced a great video that shows how these sweeps work, and the impacts they have on all parties involved. So, with no action on this component of the crisis, the ACLU, Columbia Legal Services, and other activist groups, proposed legislation to change the manner in which we conduct sweeps in Seattle. 

At the same time, the administration announced a task force - nearly a year after the emergency declaration - to review sweeps policies. Unsurprisingly, both sides went after the others' proposal. The administration trotted out the department heads to poo-poo on the legislation and demand that it not be considered, and to wait for the task force to make recommendations. The legislation proponents noted that we can't continue to delay while we further destroy people's lives. 

I'm with the proponents on this one. 

Photo Credit - KPLU

Photo Credit - KPLU

Task forces and special committees do not have a track record of completing their work on time in Seattle. Parks Legacy, Minimum Wage, HALA - all ran way past deadlines. Police reform continues to drag on (with the added support of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild doing everything they can to not be held accountable). We are entering the cold and wet season in Seattle, and continued delay on this policy helps nobody. 

The administration's actions against consideration of the ACLU/Columbia proposal is particularly interesting in that they seem to have forgotten how the legislative process works. By stoking fears that consideration and referring this piece of legislation to committee somehow just makes it law does a disservice to our entire city, and serves no purpose other than to advance a political agenda, with those living in tents being the pawns. 

If anything, having this legislation introduced to the committee process should make the task force more likely to complete their work on time. It's going to take time for the bill to come out of committee, and during that time, there will be amendments. By referring to committee, the City Council acknowledged that continued delay will not help people, and will not help neighborhoods. 

We know the current sweep process doesn't work, and I'm glad the City Council is going to get to the legislating portion. Crafting a policy that is humane, that addresses health and safety for all community members, and provides actual services is the right direction, and I look forward to seeing how the legislation will be ushered through the legislative process. 

Of course, encampments are not a solution to homelessness. Housing is. The worst thing that this whole fight could possibly do is distract from that fact, and that is a bigger issue that the council and region need to take up and address. The sooner we implement humane methods to address encampments in unsafe places, the sooner we can get to the more difficult real solutions.