Mayor Ed Murray said he agrees with a national expert’s stinging critique of authorized encampments for homeless people in Seattle.

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Mayor Ed Murray said he agrees with a national expert’s stinging critique of authorized encampments for homeless people in Seattle.

“It validates the things I’ve being trying to say,” Murray said about the criticism of city-sanctioned encampments by Barbara Poppe, who said they distract from long-term solutions and called the presence of children in tent cities “horrifying.”

The mayor hired Poppe, who led President Obama’s homelessness work from 2009 to 2014, as a consultant to help deal with Seattle’s homelessness crisis. Her disapproval of encampments includes three new ones authorized last year by Murray and the City Council.

“I don’t feel defensive at all about this,” Murray said Friday, adding that he views encampments as a stopgap measure, “an answer to nothing except a warm and safer night to some people.”

In an interview, the mayor said none of Poppe’s comments came as a surprise. “I’ve been trying to preach this to the city,” he said.

City leaders are having the “wrong conversation,” he said, and the city and council continue to focus on encampments and portable toilets “where we should not be expending our energy.”

Instead, Murray said, city, county and state officials need to be working more closely on stable housing and systemic issues such as addiction and mental-health services. “We’ve got to have the political will that we have lacked to shift toward those programs that work and cut the funding from those programs that don’t work,” he said.

Mayors of the largest West Coast cities are wrestling with similar questions about encampments, Murray said, trying to figure out the best short-term fixes to problems exacerbated by reductions in federal funding for affordable housing and other programs addressing homelessness.

“We have to recognize something significant has changed in this country,” he said, pointing to homelessness from San Francisco to Bellingham.

He disagreed with Poppe’s assertion that a spike in heroin use is not to blame for increasing homelessness. “Anyone would tell you heroin is a big part of it,” Murray said, along with issues of mental health, housing affordability, domestic violence and other crises.

Poppe also pointed to research showing that a $100 increase in rent is associated with a 15 percent increase in homelessness.

Murray acknowledged that Seattle’s economic success may well play a part in the current crisis. Although data is lacking, Murray said, the West Coast is “probably a 21st century version of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and people are moving where the economy is good, and some people don’t make it, don’t get that job and fall into homelessness.”

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