Seattle ballots this fall will be missing a proposal that promised a coherent response to the homelessness crisis. Instead, it will be up to the voters to insist that candidates for council and mayor have a clear plan on moving homeless persons from sidewalks, parks and greenbelts into supportive housing.

Compassion Seattle — or Charter Amendment 29 — offered a tremendous opportunity to clarify how seriously Seattle wants to fix this civic failure. Voters deserved the opportunity to vote on the proposal to require 2,000 new housing units for people living on streets, boost city funding for homelessness and step up services to help people rebuild their lives — all while restoring public access to parks and sidewalks. Now voters’ only hope is to elect leaders who regard these as essential needs. 

Helping people and city safety ought to be clear shared priorities for all Seattle residents, whether privileged or needy. Even while she stopped the citizen effort to guide a foundering council, King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer claimed to support these policies, despite ruling that voters cannot approve them directly with a charter amendment. Her decision was too close to the election for appeals to play out.

The young students of Broadview-Thomson K-8 School and potential jurors dutifully strolling into the King County Courthouse deserve calm, not the calamity of needles, litter and lawlessness from encroaching tent camps. Recreational vehicles, many visibly dilapidated, line residential and commercial streets as makeshift housing; more than 2,700 Seattleites were estimated to be living in vehicles after the 2020 Point-in-Time count. In just the past week, some of those RVs erupted in flames on Aurora Avenue North in Queen Anne, on Second Avenue Southwest near the Duwamish Waterway and next to Interstate 5 in Northgate.

Seattle’s homelessness response is an expensive failure, by any measure. And while the Compassion Seattle amendment won’t appear on the ballot, the candidates who supported it can enact its policies once in office. That means upending the city’s current patchwork response and treating a crisis like a crisis, as mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell has consistently called for.

Judge Shaffer’s ruling robbed the voters of an opportunity to create a specific mandate, but it also clarified Seattle’s broader need for good leadership. Ballot initiatives cannot fully substitute for consistent, thoughtful governance. Because Seattle’s top officials have faltered for so long, Compassion Seattle is still needed.

The amendment’s text won’t appear on the ballot, but its principles will. Harrell, city attorney candidate Ann Davison and council candidate Sara Nelson recognize this dire need. They deserve voters’ support to help set the city right after so much movement the wrong way.