Urban Politics #301: Seattle’s Tent City


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SEATTLE’S TENT CITY

October 27, 2010

By City Councilmember Nick Licata

With assistance from my L.A. Lisa Herbold

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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WHAT’S NEW?

A group convened by the Mayor in August has made recommendations to help the immediate needs of the Population of Unsheltered Seattle Homeless, a title that lends itself nicely to the acronym PUSH; consequently I’ve been calling the Mayor’s Task Force, Project PUSH.  The fact the Mayor’s efforts are focused upon unsheltered homeless people is critical and historic.  Through the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness our efforts have focused on moving people out of shelter and into permanent housing.  An important goal indeed, but given that the City funds 1,209 shelter beds, and still the 2010 One Night Count found 1,986 people sleeping outside in Seattle, it’s time to support the recommendations of Project PUSH, and help those with emergency shelter needs.

PUSH convened two groups, the first recommended the creation of a City of Seattle sanctioned, semi-permanent encampment to meet the immediate survival and safety needs of individuals who have no access to safe shelter, while acknowledging that encampments are never a long-term solution to homelessness.  The second group made recommendations for how City policies should accommodate people who do not have a place to be; whether during the day or night.  More details on the recommendations follow a short history on the issues tackled by both subgroups.

GROUP 1: CITY-SANCTIONED ENCAMPMENTS

HISTORY

Seattle has had at least one Tent City since 1993.  While not a permanent solution, an encampment can provide safety, privacy, community, 24-hour access, the ability to accommodate couples and pets, and other benefits of self-governance.   Self-management encampments also shelter many more people using fewer funds than other shelter models, while unfortunately providing less in the way of client services like case-management.

Tent City 3 moves quarterly within Seattle, Tukwila, Shoreline, and unincorporated South King County. It currently is at St Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle until November 27, 2010; this is the 10th time St Mark’s has welcomed Tent City 3.  Currently a University District congregation is home to another encampment: Nickelsville, which faces a November 15 deadline to move. It is run by Veterans for Peace, a 501 (c) 3 organization.

The first Tent City in a local suburban area outside Seattle was established in May 2004 by overcoming opposition to establish new land use standards for temporary homeless encampments. Tent City 4 moves quarterly between locations in suburban cities in North and East King County, including Bothell, Kirkland, Woodinville, and Bellevue.  Tent City 4 is currently at Bear Creek United Methodist Church in Woodinville, but will move on October 24th to St John Vianney Catholic Parish in Kirkland where it will remain until mid-January 2011.

A court legal arrangement in Seattle and land use regulations in suburban cities requires both Tent Cities to move at least every 90 days. Finding a suitable site for a long-term encampment is challenging for people who have to move their shelter every three months; it makes focusing on finding permanent housing difficult.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The group focusing on the encampment question was asked: “Should an encampment be established on a piece of city property; should a third party be contracted to manage the encampment; and what specific criteria should be met around use of the space and services provided?”

Their recommendations were that only after the City of Seattle provides notice and an opportunity for surrounding residents to comment, a sanctioned encampment should be established that is self-managed and not larger than 100-150 people. It should also allow alternatives to tents such as semi-permanent built structures and must provide reasonable access to services such as transportation, hygiene facilities, removal of trash, and facilities for food preparation, access to electricity and running water, and ideally, a sewage hook up to reduce ongoing waste removal costs.

The Mayor’s office has recommended a new search for an organization to run an encampment through a “Request for Proposals.” The Mayor’s Task Force did recommend that to save time it could take advantage of the expertise available now by working with the current manager of Nickelsville (Veterans for Peace – Chapter 92) to establish a semi-permanent encampment.

Other Task Force recommendations addressed the costs, rules, evaluations, support services, green energy design goals and opportunities, data reporting requirements, and alternatives to encampments.

Although the group endorsed the establishment of an encampment, they “strongly urged the City of Seattle to continue to aggressively develop permanent, affordable housing options for individuals and families transitioning out of homelessness. Encampments, along with other forms of substandard housing, should not become a substitute for safe, affordable permanent housing.”

GROUP 2:  POLICIES THAT AFFECT PEOPLE WHO HAVE NO SHELTER

HISTORY

Seattle has a long history of responding to visible homelessness with tolerance tempered by concern for the health and safety of all people.  This balance has varied with different Mayors and City Councils over the years.

Seattle has, for some time, made public property at Seattle Center, in community centers, City Hall, and other unused property available for shelter needs.  In 2000, I and four other colleagues on the City Council led the way to open the old City Hall to serve as shelter year-round, when it previously had been open only during winter months.  The New City Hall is now only available as shelter during severe weather conditions.  I and others on the City Council are currently seeking to expand that use.

Some states have “right to shelter” laws that, most notably in places like Massachusetts and New York, are used to require government to open up vacant buildings or fund new housing vouchers when the homeless people living outside exceed the number of shelter beds available.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Group 2 recommended the city declaring that the health and public safety conditions of 1800 people living on the streets constitutes an emergency condition.  They recommended that as long as unsheltered people are not disturbing the peace or interfering with the rights of others, they should be allowed to remain where they have chosen to be and that education should address objections to the presence of homeless people because of public discomfort or concern about impaired business activity.

Specifically, the group recommended that City policy treat all outdoor sleepers similarly; not to remove people unless there is a shelter space for them to move to; that the City establish “Safe Zones” for car campers and outdoor sleepers; and that the City expand shelter in government owned buildings – possibly using the “Bunk House” model as an efficient way to house a large number of people for a very modest cost.

This group came to consensus that the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, “ending homelessness by obtaining or building permanent supportive housing units” remains the preferred strategy; and, new resources should be brought to this effort rather than diverting limited funds to other efforts.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Mayor is reviewing the recommendations and I offer my support to help him move them forward.  As it relates to the recommendations related to a semi-permanent encampment, on Monday, Deputy Mayor Daryl Smith proposed an on-going role for members of Project Push to review a list of city-owned property and rate the locations according their acceptability.

COUNCIL MEMBERS & MAYOR’S EMAIL ADDRESSES

Sally.Bagshaw@seattle.gov<mailto:Sally.Bagshaw@seattle.gov>

Tim.Burgess@seattle.gov<mailto:Tim.Burgess@seattle.gov>

Sally.Clark@seattle.gov<mailto:Sally.Clark@seattle.gov>

Richard.Conlin@seattle.gov<mailto:Richard.Conlin@seattle.gov>

Jean.Godden@seattle.gov<mailto:Jean.Godden@seattle.gov>

Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov<mailto:Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov>

Nick.Licata@seattle.gov<mailto:Nick.Licata@seattle.gov>

Mike.OBrien@seattle.gov<mailto:Mike.OBrien@seattle.gov>

Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov<mailto:Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov>

Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office. http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm

Keep in touch…

Comments

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Comment from David W Johnson
Time November 3, 2010 at 9:42 am

It’s a noble gesture to end homelessness, but it will never happen. What will happen is you’ll expand the system over time. Tent city 1 was started in 1993 with mention of tent city 3. In 2027, we’ll be talking about tent city 6.

Comment from Bradford
Time November 27, 2010 at 2:13 am

The key to ending homelessness is in getting a better handle on dealing with (or preventing) the large amounts of drug abuse and mental health issues that are prevalent in the homeless population. I do not think it is impossible but that we are focusing on the wrong things…in essence we are shutting the barn doors after the horses have escaped.

Comment from Randka
Time February 11, 2011 at 6:50 am

Yes this is great ;)

Comment from Weiter Lesen
Time March 15, 2011 at 9:43 am

Kinda agree with Bradford. Good effort though.

Comment from Steve Gaskell
Time September 27, 2011 at 11:47 am

Hope to see more tent city in the country

Comment from Ron Henry
Time October 19, 2011 at 4:07 am

Why can’t we see more city in this situation, the politic of Seatle is the best in the US

Comment from Terry
Time November 4, 2011 at 7:11 pm

People should understand that others need help.
Homless will exist for ever, unfortunetly, but we could do some actions, like tent city but not also,to make their life better.

Regards
Terry

Comment from Peter
Time December 27, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Cam e across this pretty late but I’m wondering what eventuated. Bradford was right but that doesn’t stop our responsibility to provide adequate shelter and human conditions for those who have fallen on hard times. It could happen to any of us and society needs to do unto others.

Comment from Emo Style
Time May 29, 2012 at 11:47 pm

We need to take care of our kids. Body piercing and dark attitudes is surely a flag of concern that’s waving in our faces. If we ignore the signs, it’s no wonder we lose hope and pretty soon we need a replacement for our lost family ties and then we are homeless

Comment from Diablo Champion
Time May 29, 2012 at 11:52 pm

Nick, you’ve been on council since the late 90s and surely we should be seeing some positive moves by now to at least turn these homelessness problems in the other direction. This is seriously a concern that we look after our own people and not just turn the problem into a professional activity for those who actually have somewhere to live.

Comment from Www.Youtube.com
Time December 30, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as
though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste
your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

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