Cleanups of unauthorized homeless encampments in Seattle will no longer be monitored by the city’s civil rights office, starting Jan. 1.
Cleanups of unauthorized homeless encampments in Seattle will no longer be monitored by the city’s civil-rights office, officials confirmed Wednesday.
That role will be assumed by staffers from the city’s office of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS), said department director Chris Potter.
Potter said civil-rights monitors are taking part in encampment removals now and will through the end of the year. But starting Jan. 1, the monitors will no longer be involved, he said.
An FAS field coordinator will be present at every removal, however, Potter said. That person will have the authority to halt removals not being carried out in accordance with the city’s protocols, he said.
If something goes wrong, “They’ll call off the cleanup,” Potter said.
The reason for the change was not immediately made clear. While the monitors have had a “positive impact,” the city is moving forward with “routinizing camp removals and cleanups,” Potter said at a Wednesday City Council committee meeting.
City Councilwoman Lisa Herbold called the move “premature,” adding that she will ask Mayor Ed Murray to reconsider.
“It’s pretty clear that the monitoring has some real value,” Herbold said in an interview. The civil-rights office staff are more likely to make sure the city is doing the right thing “as it relates to the rights of individuals who are living outside” as opposed to being focused on managing public land, she said.
Representatives from the city’s Office of Civil Rights have been monitoring the cleanups since August, when Murray announced the program in a public note acknowledging flaws in the city’s approach to cleaning up the camps.
An August Seattle Times report found the cleanup process beset by a variety of bureaucratic failures, including missed start-times and camper complaints of lost belongings and personal keepsakes.
To help improve the city’s process, Murray empowered the monitors to halt and reschedule sweeps whenever they found that the city’s cleanup protocols were not followed.
But even as administrators began planning additional improvements, the city’s struggles to carry out the cleanups humanely and at scheduled times continued, according to handwritten notes reviewed by The Seattle Times.
From September to early November, 26 sweeps were conducted across Seattle.
Two were stopped by monitors after the Seattle Police Department officers assigned to provide security during the cleanup left, the notes state.
Another two were called off before they began when monitors found campers weren’t provided proper notice about the cleanups.
According to city officials, additional improvements to the city’s camp-cleanup protocols are still in the planning stages. The proposed changes are part of a plan the mayor unveiled in October, when the City Council was debating changes related to illegal camping.
The mayor’s plan heads off an August City Council ordinance initially proposed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Columbia Legal Services and other groups that advocate for the rights of the homeless.
Additional details of the mayor’s proposed plan are scheduled for release to the City Council in January.