ORIGINAL 10 AM REPORT: This morning, the City Council’s Budget Committee is taking a closer look at what the mayor proposes the city spend on homelessness in the next two years.
But it’s just a briefing – no vote.
Meantime, the council is getting closer, outside the budget process, to voting on a controversial proposal that we are told is continuing to take shape, but “changing daily” according to one source – a new city policy regarding people camping on city-owned property, when and where it will and won’t be allowed, and for how long.
Some have described the evolving proposal as “opening” city-owned public property to camping. At one recent meeting, as reported here, Councilmember Lisa Herbold said 40 percent of city parks, for example, already have campers, so what they are trying to do is codify what to do about that beyond pushing campers from one place to another.
One councilmember, Tim Burgess (one of two current councilmembers elected to citywide “at large” spots), declared this week that he thinks the general concept goes “too far.” The proposal doesn’t just address parks as potential campsites. It includes sidewalks.
Here is what our source says is the newest version of the proposed legislation (if you look at the PDF, you’ll see how it’s been changing).
Its definition of public areas:
“Public space” means any area within the City limits which is owned, leased, maintained, controlled, or managed by the City, and does not include Public Development Authorities, privately owned land, public schools and colleges, the University of Washington, or the Port of Seattle.
And it includes this definition of public areas that would be “unsuitable” for camping:
“Unsuitable location” means a public space that has a specific public use that is substantially impeded as a result of an outdoor living space in that location. Improved areas of City parks, including restored natural areas or natural areas actively undergoing restoration, and public sidewalks in front of houses and dwelling units are per se unsuitable. Sidewalks in commercial areas are prohibited to sitting and lying during certain hours under SMC 15.48.040.
“Specific public use” is defined, in turn, as “lawful, appropriate use that benefits, assists, or is enjoyed by members of the public more than incidentally and occasionally.”
So, that all said, two maps are in circulation related to this. Note that since this is all evolving, they are not definitive “here’s where camping would be allowed” maps – and note that the park map shows parks that have what, under the definition above, could be considered “unimproved” areas; while Lincoln Park is entirely shaded in, for example, the “unsuitable” definition above would seem to rule out camping in much of its space. Here’s the citywide map of parks and greenbelts that have some “unimproved” areas (click it for a full-size PDF version):
If it’s determined that campers should be moved, the proposal includes a long list of rules regarding notification, proof of it, what has to be offered in terms of services/shelter – you can read the current proposal for rules starting on page 5 of the current draft legislation.
Also worth noting: This would be followed, under a proposed change in the legislation this week, by a followup process to determine where vehicle camping would be allowed:
Section 7. Individuals Using Vehicles as Residences. The 2016 one night count of unsheltered homeless identified over 900 people using vehicles as residences. The unsheltered population living in vehicles faces similar instability to those who reside in outdoor living spaces and risk impoundment of their vehicles and loss of personal property. The Human Services and Public Health Committee and the Gender Equity Safe Communities and New Americans Committee of the Council shall draft, consider, and introduce to the full Council legislation in 2017, based on the same principles contained in this ordinance, coupled with a long-term goal of providing adequate housing for those individuals living in vehicles. The legislation should address the multiple ordinances and laws that govern parking throughout the City with the goal of providing stability and protections for those people using vehicles for shelter commensurate to those established in this ordinance. To achieve that goal, the legislation will provide to people living in their vehicles protected areas for parking and modifications of parking standards, provide for outreach to address the reasons for homelessness, and establish standards for notice and safeguarding personal property, including impounded vehicles, equivalent to those established in this ordinance. The Committees named above shall be tasked with proposing legislation that meets these purposes to the Full Council by April 30, 2017.
Back to the proposals about camping, the current version of the proposal suggests a two-year limit:
In keeping with the recognition that public camping as a substitute for permanent housing is detrimental to the health and safety of all, and that these measures are an interim response to a situation the City is expected to resolve through other policy measures, this ordinance shall expire two years after its effective date unless expressly extended by the City Council. The Mayor shall report to the Council every six months in the interim on implementation of this ordinance.
Now the big question: When will this be voted on, whatever shape it finally takes?
We checked with City Council communications staff just before publishing this. The reply: “Too soon to tell.” While there’s nothing related to it on next week’s calendar, something could be added with just a few days’ notice.
SOMETHING TO SAY? City councilmembers’ contact info is here.
ADDED 11:38 AM: The Seattle Green Spaces Coalition has sent city officials this letter expressing opposition. An excerpt:
We oppose funding for temporary, outdoor “solutions,” which leave homeless people exposed to increasingly severe weather as winter approaches. Instead, we urge you to find indoor shelter, which is available in city-owned vacant and underutilized buildings, and make that your preferred option going forward.
Meantime, the City Council Twitter account has now confirmed a committee hearing on the proposal next Friday (October 14th) at 9:30 am. It’s also been added to the council calendar since we first published this story.