Wednesday the city council’s Human Services and Public Health committee approved a bill to release $2.3 million in homeless funding to Mayor Ed Murray’s executive branch, despite concerns from some councilmembers about the executive’s ongoing clearances, or “sweeps,” of unauthorized homeless encampments.
Lisa Herbold, who’s emerged as the council’s watchdog on encampment clearances, said, “I’ve heard a lot of concern in the community about whether or not...the protocols are being used--advanced notice, service access, and storage of belongings--for camps of two or fewer tents. And I’ve heard anecdotally that we’re not using the protocols, we are not giving advanced notice, we’re not offering services and we are not storing belongings if they are in camps of two or fewer tents.” (It’s not just anecdote--the Human Services Department confirmed to us that prior notice isn’t technically required for camps with only one or two tents/structures.)
When Scott Lindsay, public safety advisor to Mayor Ed Murray, replied that giving notice to every single camp before clearing it would divert scarce resources from encampments where outreach efforts have the greatest chance of succeeding, Herbold said this:
The goals, I think, of providing notice is not just to have a successful outreach outcome, though. It’s because everybody is entitled to advance notice before the structure that they’re calling their home is removed.
The meeting also included a reference to reporting by yours truly by councilmember Kshama Sawant. While debating the issue of prior notice, Lindsay said this:
In all of my time working on these issues and going out to the encampment sites, I have never actually seen someone pick up and leave because of advanced notice. So the advanced notice is not actually triggering people to make different decisions.
Well, I have. So I tweeted this:
And here's the original tweet I was referencing:
A few minutes later councilmember Sawant (who can be seen checking her phone right before speaking) said this:
Mr. Lindsay mentioned that nobody has left when they were given notice of a cleanup-sweep. Casey Jaywork of Seattle Weekly has reported that two people, Sean and Victoria, they left their tent under the Ballard Bridge when they heard there was going to be a sweep, so that’s at least one example that we know where people did end up leaving because clearly this process doesn’t work for them.
To sum up: unauthorized encampments are still getting cleared, without (at least sometimes) prior notice or an alternative location for campers. But pressure is growing on the mayor to cut back the clearings, and there’s a growing consensus at city hall that bolder, smarter action is needed.
Every single councilmember showed up to yesterday’s committee meeting, which voted to release $2.3 million in emergency homeless funding to the executive branch. Full council will vote on the $2.3 million on Tuesday, though given Wednesday’s vote that will likely just be a formality.