(UPDATED 6:40 PM – Video in box below is now the archived recording of today’s meeting)
9:31 AM: Click the “play” button and you’ll see the Seattle Channel‘s live feed from City Council chambers, where the encampment proposals that have drawn so much attention and discussion this past week are about to be discussed by the Human Services and Public Health Committee.
9:38 AM: Committee chair Councilmember Sally Bagshaw is setting the stage for the discussion, recapping some of what the mayor announced last night (WSB coverage here) and the alternatives she and Councilmember Mike O’Brien proposed earlier in the week (WSB coverage here). You can find all the related documents, including the alternative proposals, in this portion of the agenda for today’s meeting.
“This has been an extraordinarily stressful time for all of us,” Bagshaw then declared. She says the proposal brought in about 5,000 e-mails to council offices. Most were focused on opposition to camping in parks and on sidewalks, and Bagshaw reiterated that the mayor declared last night that he wanted those areas to remain officially off-limits. She also has reiterated that the committee is NOT voting today, but will be discussing the “principles” of what they’re trying to do.
First guest speaker at the meeting is the newly hired city Director of Homelessness George Scarola. (Also note, councilmembers present at the hearing include those who are not members of the committee, including our area’s Councilmember Lisa Herbold.) Scarola recapped what the mayor said last night (again, covered here, with full details promised next week). He’s followed by the mayor’s counsel, Ian Warner, who has reiterated, once more, that the mayor will not support camping in parks, on sidewalks, or on school properties (which aren’t city-owned anyway).
9:53 AM: Now speaking, the mayor’s public-safety director Scott Lindsay. He says that the mayor’s promise of expanding outreach personnel means the city will have the capacity to reach out to every unsheltered person “to bring them indoors,” while the city works “to have a place for them to go.” He says the mayor’s budget proposal includes $2 million for additional trash (and needles) cleanup related to unsheltered living.
Talk turns to those cleanup plans. Herbold asks about the scope and concern about the expansion of what had been a pilot program at four sites. Bagshaw points out that for many of the people from whom the council have heard, the trash is the problem much more than the tents.
10:20 AM: Pressed by Councilmember O’Brien, a mayoral rep says there is “no capability or plan to sweep people off all park property” though the mayor does not support a plan that would not “preserve that capability.”
10:36 AM: Scarola warns that communities might be “nervous” about some of the forthcoming solutions, including the four new authorized encampments, but “we have to work together.”
10:40 AM: Committee vice chair Councilmember Bruce Harrell suggests they get on to details of the various proposals. Councilmember Tim Burgess speaks first, saying of unsheltered people, “They are our neighbors and we want to help them.” He draws applause by reiterating, “I just want to say we should not proactively authorize camping in our parks and on our sidewalks … that violates public trust.” He says he supports what the mayor announced last night, including four new authorized encampments similar to the ones currently open in Ballard, Interbay, and Othello. Burgess also says, “There’s a lot of … trash (in locations) where campers are no longer there” and urges that mayor use “emergency powers” to get that cleaned up. Then he says it’s “not helpful” to use this controversy to “denigrate those who are homeless” in Seattle. A few minutes later, Councilmember Kshama Sawant notes that “homelessness is an absolutely brutalizing experience … nobody chooses that.”
11:09 AM: Bagshaw says 90 people are signed up to speak in the public-comment period they’re trying to get to, and at 2 minutes each, “you do the math.” Harrell asks about O’Brien’s revised proposal for the city to pay a $50 fine if it doesn’t follow through on whatever rules it implements. The latter says he’ll work with Harrell on that offline – and audience members howl. Bagshaw says, “I oppose the idea of having penalties on this kind of legislation.”
11:17 AM: Public comment begins. Bagshaw says she’ll stay until everyone has spoken, even if other councilmembers have to leave.
11:49 AM: So far, a variety of viewpoints have been voiced.
12:10 PM: There’s been opposition, support, alternatives. One person suggested spending tens of millions more on housing. (For context on the investment required, the DESC Cottage Grove Commons building in Delridge, which houses 66 formerly homeless people, cost $14 million to build earlier this decade.)
12:31 PM: There have been emotional speeches from people on multiple sides of the issue, including, just now, a woman who asked “what do you want us to do? Just die? … You want me to be you. I was you. Then, something happened” – mental illness, drugs, job loss, and a variety of things. She was shortly after a man in football gear flanked by kids holding up signs saying “Needle-Free End Zones,” saying they had to chase loiterers off their field (not in WS) every week, and that they had found three needles on the field so far this season.
12:40 PM: Public comment continues – now at #49 of what was announced as a list of 90 who signed up. We’re moving on to other stories but the live feed will continue as long as the meeting does, and when the full recorded video is available later in the day, we’ll then substitute that.
1:03 PM: One more note if you’re not watching … councilmembers still at the hearing right now are Herbold, González (citywide rep and a West Seattleite), Burgess (citywide rep), Harrell, Bagshaw.
1:34 PM: The meeting has just wrapped up. We’ll switch to the archived video when it’s available. Latest info is that a vote wouldn’t be likely before December, because the council has to immerse itself in the budget from hereon out, but we’ll keep watch.