Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued a homelessness-emergency order Tuesday to quickly open two safe-parking sites for people living in vehicles, and members of the City Council grilled the mayor’s officials about sweeps of unauthorized tent encampments.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued an emergency order Tuesday to quickly open two safe-parking sites for people living in vehicles, and members of the City Council grilled Murray administration officials about sweeps of unauthorized tent encampments.
The parking sites will be in Ballard and Delridge and together will accommodate as many as 50 vehicles, Murray said. He said the sites should be open in 30 days.
“These are not long-term solutions to end homelessness, but temporary locations that can be managed to provide a safer environment for those living on our streets and have less impact on our neighborhoods,” Murray said in a statement.
When the mayor declared a state of emergency on Nov. 2 to address mounting homelessness in Seattle, he said the unusual step would give him the authority to bypass certain permitting, public-process and zoning requirements, if necessary.
Murray is sending the parking-sites order to the council for approval. Each site will have sanitation and garbage service, as well as case-management assistance.
People using the sites will be required to abide by a code of conduct prohibiting drugs and violence, the mayor said.
The Ballard site will be the former Yankee Diner parking lot at Shilshole Avenue Northwest and 24th Avenue Northwest, which is owned by Seattle Public Utilities. The Delridge site will be at West Marginal Way Southwest and Highland Park Way Southwest on property owned by the state Department of Transportation.
Until the sites are set up, the city will let people living in vehicles park in three zones in public rights of way. The zones will be in Ballard on Northwest 45th Street at 14th Avenue Northwest, in Interbay on West Armory Way at 15th Avenue West and in Sodo on Third Avenue South south of Edgar Martinez Drive South.
Murray’s decision to open the parking sites also comes after some Ballard residents have called on him and police to respond to what they’ve described as increases in crime and illegal camping, including people dealing drugs and living in recreational vehicles. They’ve been joined by some Magnolia, Queen Anne and Fremont residents.
“The city’s active case- management services will reach out to those experiencing homelessness and living in their vehicles, with the goal to help move them to permanent housing as quickly as possible,” Murray said. “These safe lots will also help reduce the public-health issues currently impacting several of our neighborhoods.”
Cindy Pierce, a Magnolia resident who helped organize a neighborhood meeting with city officials this month about crime and illegal camping, praised the mayor’s parking-sites order. But Pierce said Murray isn’t going far enough.
Under existing Seattle ordinances, RVs may not be parked on city streets overnight, except in industrial areas, where they may not remain in the same spot for more than 72 hours. Murray said Tuesday there will be renewed RV-parking enforcement.
Pierce said the city should impose a moratorium on car-camping on Seattle streets.
“I hope that the people who are truly homeless and living in RVs get the resources they need,” said Pierce, 57. “But this won’t take care of the criminals and drug users living in RVs and committing property crimes. They need to leave our neighborhoods.”
The mayor recently opened two authorized tent encampments — in Ballard and in Interbay, near Magnolia — on a pair of properties leased from Seattle City Light. He said Tuesday he’s still working on opening a third.
Shortly before Murray’s parking-sites announcement Tuesday, officials briefed the council on the city’s sweeps of unauthorized tent encampments, which have drawn opposition from some people experiencing homelessness, and their advocates.
The city conducted 38 cleanups of illegal camps between Murray’s Nov. 2 emergency proclamation and last week, the officials said. Last month, they said the city had conducted more than 500 sweeps in 2015, up from 351 in 2014 and 131 in 2013.
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The 38 recent cleanups involved removing 200 tents and 184 people, 74 of whom accepted offers of shelter and 60 of whom accepted non-shelter services, the officials said.
Murray officials have said the city is complementing the cleanups with more shelter and outreach, thanks to emergency funding. But critics argue the city still doesn’t have enough shelter and services to help everyone being uprooted.
“These people are trying to survive and we’re kicking the hell out of them,” said Stu Tanquist, 54, who attended the council briefing to protest the sweeps and who lives in Tent City 3, a roving encampment currently just south of Seattle, in Tukwila.
“They just go somewhere else and set up again. It’s homeless Whac-a-mole.”
Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said Tuesday the city should stop the sweeps immediately for that reason and because her organization is gearing up to lead the region’s annual One Night Count of people sleeping outside. The count is early in the morning on Jan. 29.
“This is affecting our ability to document the realities under which people are living in our communities,” Eisinger said, noting the city receives federal funding based on the results of the count.
Her organization, Columbia Legal Services and the American Civil Liberties Union have sent officials letters asking them to halt the cleanups.
City Councilmember Kshama Sawant spoke against the sweeps, while other council members, including Lisa Herbold, who requested the briefing, Lorena González, Debora Juarez, Mike O’Brien and Tim Burgess, expressed concerns about how the cleanups are happening and why.
Seattle protocols require 72 hours’ notice before illegal camping cleanups, but officials admitted they sometimes act without notice when conditions are hazardous.
They also said it can be difficult for cleanup crews to determine whether items are belongings that the city must store to be claimed or trash that can be tossed out.
González asked about outreach to people who don’t speak English, and Burgess asked why fewer than half the people involved in recent cleanups accepted shelter; Herbold urged the officials to adopt a public-health approach to unauthorized encampments.
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw vowed to explore their concerns and review Seattle’s cleanup protocols on Feb. 10. She chairs the council’s human-services committee.