A hearing at Seattle City Hall on homeless camping was boisterous, emotional and even featured applause for Bill Bryant, the Republican candidate for governor who favors “zero tolerance” for camping on public property.
Here’s how angry the overflow crowd was at a Seattle City Hall hearing on homeless camping policies: Republican candidate for governor Bill Bryant received an ovation for declaring there should be zero tolerance for camping on public property.
That’s akin to Tom Brady getting a rousing cheer at CenturyLink Field.
The boisterous meeting Friday featured tearful testimony, audience members shouting over City Council members, and a cry for “recall” when Councilmember Mike O’Brien said homeless people have a right to sleep somewhere. The tone was unusual for archliberal Seattle.
Like some others, Bryant, a Seattle resident, said enabling people to live in tents was not compassionate but cruel.
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Sheryl Minawa offered a different viewpoint. Minawa, 55, said she has lived in a tent at the Othello Village encampment after her RV was stolen.
“You want me to be you,” Minawa told the council. “I was you once, but something went wrong, something happened.” Minawa, 55, said she is a software engineer suffering from PTSD after her identity was stolen.
Although some think of homeless people as lazy, Minawa said, “Have you tried to work with your house on your back? I have to find food every night, make a bed, bathe in a gas station. This is not lazy. This is an attempt to be you.”
No decisions were made at the emotional meeting. It was held instead to hear hours of public reaction to different plans on homeless camping coursing through City Hall. A proposal by O’Brien is the most accommodating to campers, and one by Councilmember Sally Bagshaw is slightly less so. More strict viewpoints by Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Tim Burgess were applauded by most in the crowd.
The flashpoint for many was the notion of allowing homeless people to camp on some public property, such as undeveloped parts of parks. Bagshaw said council members had received close to 5,000 emails about proposed camping policies.
Ron Onyon, coach of the Interbay Eagles youth football team, told the council about a tent with three people “we couldn’t wake” in a playing-field end zone at a city park where the Eagles recently played. Onyon said he and the opposing coach agreed not to run plays toward the side of the end zone where the tent was.
Julie Debons, of Magnolia, testified with her young son and daughter at her side. Debons said she received a message from a youth-sports coordinator warning that play fields would be taken over by the homeless under council proposals.
Debons said she was concerned about such misinformation and neighbors who seemed troubled by how homeless people would impact their property values.
She began to cry when she said some of her children’s classmates were homeless.
Another Magnolia mom, Shelby Lemmel, said she was tired of being called misinformed or callous because she opposed camping in public parks. She said the council’s proposals would perpetuate homelessness.
Many who testified urged the council to find alternative solutions that involve housing the homeless, although others shouted that they didn’t want to pay for it.
“We turned the priority scale upside down in what we fund and don’t fund,” said Christopher Grimm, of North Seattle. “We’re thinking about spending $54 billion on transit,” Grimm said of Sound Transit’s measure on the November ballot. “How about having Sound Housing?”
Seattle voters approved a $290 million property-tax levy for affordable housing in an August vote.
The council does not plan to vote on the proposals discussed Friday until it finishes with budget work, likely around Thanksgiving.
But the mayor will introduce a resolution next week calling for the city to create four new authorized encampments in the city, with access to water, restrooms and trash receptacles. The council will likely take up the resolution soon after receiving it, said a council spokesman.
The mayor opposes camping in parks and on sidewalks and school property.
Scott Lindsay, Murray’s public-safety adviser, said the process for siting the encampments is still up for discussion. Lindsay said the mayor also wants to hire more outreach workers and fund increased trash removals. The mayor also wants to create updated protocols for removing encampments like the area under Interstate 5 downtown called The Jungle.
Lindsay said the sweep of The Jungle earlier in the week went well, apart from the fatal police shooting of Michael Layton Taylor, who was allegedly fighting with another man and had a knife.
Councilmember M. Lorena Gonzalez noted that only about 25 percent of those who had camped in The Jungle were placed in shelters or housing after intensive outreach by the city. The rest, presumably, moved to another outdoor location.
“It would be a mistake to adopt that model,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think that’s what neighborhoods want.”