A Seattle City Council proposal to open parks to homeless camps is a terrible idea.
A HOMELESS person camped in the end zone during a youth-football game at Seattle’s Interbay sports complex, as seen on KIRO TV’s newscast, couldn’t have better underscored the absurd direction that the Seattle City Council is headed.
The City Council this week is considering legislation that would fundamentally give homeless people a right to camp in Seattle parks. It would set up ridiculous bureaucratic hurdles to removing homeless camps — even from what the ordinance defines as “unsuitable” locations like the end zone of a city park’s sports field.
According to council staff, here’s what would be required to remove that end-zone tent under the bill, as originally introduced by Councilmember Mike O’Brien:
City staff would assess whether its location was unsafe, would have to find an “alternative public space” where the camper could move, then give him or her 48 hours’ notice and provide moving assistance, storage and personalized outreach. It demands a Byzantine notification process. And that’s just for the “unsuitable” camps.
A collective boiling of outrage from city residents is likely to force even this City Council to make changes, such as tweaking the definition of “unsuitable” and putting a two-year sunset on the legislation.
Instead, the council should kill the legislation entirely. Sadly, only City Councilmember Tim Burgess has vocally objected so far.
If it passes, the City Council could be greenlighting “suitable” homeless camps on parks just two years after voters made a historic investment by creating the Seattle Park District. Yet the council seems willing to give greenbelts at Carkeek Park, the Cheasty greenbelt and Lincoln Park over to homeless villages. Woodland Park’s forests, next to fields that daily host hundreds of youth sports players, could become a shantytown.
The council is captured by the argument that removing homeless camps would simply push the problem from place to place.
The city does have an obligation to confront the huge and growing homeless crisis. But officially allowing homeless camps in parks sets an appallingly low bar for what this city will tolerate. Unsanctioned camps are unhealthy and — as Seattle saw with the shooting in the Jungle — can be unsafe. They corrode the goodwill of progressive Seattle taxpayers who sincerely want solutions to the homeless crisis — and have been willing to pay for them.
Instead of this lousy idea, the council should focus on the comprehensive, city-commissioned plan it just received to reform $50 million in city homeless spending. In the short term, lots of innovative ideas are popping up about tiny houses in steel modular buildings.
But Seattle doesn’t need more unsanctioned homeless camping. On one recent weekend, city crews found 45 hypodermic needles in Licton Springs Park. Youth sports games at Woodland Park’s baseball field have been delayed because campers refuse to leave the dugouts. At Roxhill Park, residents found a bathroom blocked by two women with shopping carts inside. Staff members at a school in Meridian Park must clean up bottles and debris before school starts and report campers between their front door and the picnic shelter in the park.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will veto legislation that allows camping in parks, his spokesman, Benton Strong, said this week. Good.
The City Council shouldn’t put it on his desk. Find a better plan than opening Seattle’s crown-jewel parks to homeless villages.