Since our coalition of neighborhood, business and nonprofit service providers introduced Charter Amendment 29, we’ve seen a groundswell of support from all corners of the city. People are ready to make meaningful progress on our city’s homelessness crisis and eager to sign the petition for Charter Amendment 29 to open our parks and clear our sidewalks by bringing unsheltered people inside.
A recent Op-Ed on the charter amendment by several former city council members made a number of misleading and incorrect assertions. [“A charter amendment is not the way out of Seattle’s homelessness crisis,” May 16, Opinion]. We want to set the record straight.
The Op-Ed stated that the amendment “makes it harder to remove encampments from public spaces.” This is simply not true. Charter Amendment 29 establishes an individualized and culturally competent process for encampment removal and funds urgently needed treatment of mental-health and substance-use disorders. It provides more emergency housing with 2,000 new units in the first year, while affirming the city government’s ability to immediately close encampments that pose a public-health or safety risk or obstruct the use of public spaces.
By claiming that Charter Amendment 29 makes it harder to remove encampments, the previous authors seem to imply that a better way to fix our encampment crisis is to simply enforce existing laws against camping in public spaces. Such an approach is ineffective and doesn’t actually solve the underlying issues keeping people outside — it just pushes people around.
A completely false assertion made by critics is that the amendment stops the prosecution of misdemeanors. This measure does not eliminate or block the use of a single misdemeanor law. Instead, it encourages police, prosecutors, defense counsel and courts to evaluate individual cases and make a determination whether arrest and prosecution or diversion to treatment services is more appropriate to maintain public safety. This is a smart and effective approach.
One of the only tangible “solutions” offered by critics of Charter Amendment 29 is to suggest voters elect people who want to take action on homelessness. We agree this is important, but nearly six years into a state of emergency on homelessness and with hundreds of millions of dollars spent, our city needs accountability and a plan to make meaningful progress on addressing this escalating crisis. Sitting and waiting for the right leadership is not a strategy the people of Seattle — particularly our most vulnerable — can afford. Now is the time for the people to exercise their right to petition their government and compel action.
Some have pointed out that Charter Amendment 29 doesn’t provide new funding. While this isn’t something a charter amendment can do, it is true that the city will need to prioritize the necessary funding to achieve the initiative’s objectives. They won’t need to look far though. In addition to the amendment establishing a Human Services Fund to which the city must dedicate 12% of its general fund annually to provide homeless and human services, the city and King County are expected to receive approximately $800 million from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Combined with higher than expected growth in city revenues to the tune of about $40 million, adequate funding will exist and no new taxes will be needed to begin implementation of this plan. Solving homelessness is the No. 1 priority for the people of Seattle, and our measure directs the city to prioritize funding these services.
The claim that the city charter shouldn’t be used for this purpose is a red herring. The existing charter is broad in adopting city policies and governance structures and in requiring certain actions by our elected officials, including allocating funds for specific purposes. It is a serious document, and homelessness in Seattle is a serious issue.
By arguing against Charter Amendment 29, our critics are enabling continuation of the status quo — no plan to open public spaces by bringing people inside, no strategies to guide the offering of enhanced services to those in need and no commitment to address the behavioral-health crisis we are all witnessing on our streets.
Inaction is not an option, and the people of our city — especially those suffering outside today — can’t afford to keep waiting. Charter Amendment 29 is a solution where none exists today. It provides for more emergency housing and behavioral health treatment services, affirms the city’s right to close encampments, all while increasing accountability and mandating public reporting of results.
Charter Amendment 29 establishes something that hasn’t existed up to this point: an accountable plan of action. Sign the petition so you can vote on this amendment on Nov. 2.