KOMO: Mayor Ed Murray says there’s been a recent spike in the number of illegal homeless encampments in Seattle, and he wants additional “tent cities” approved to help address the issue.
A press release from the Mayor’s office states that the mayor will send proposed legislation to the City Council next month “to make a limited number of unused, vacant lots on private and public land” available for encampments. The areas included are not in residential neighborhoods or parks.
A task force Murray convened in October recommended that Seattle make it easier for tent cities to operate with oversight and legal services. “In recent months, more illegal encampments have popped up on our streets and sidewalks than ever before and the need for alternative spaces has grown immensely,” the mayor wrote in a letter to the task force last week.
Encampments have stirred controversy around Seattle, with politicians and advocates disagreeing about whether they save people from the streets or siphon resources away from safer, cleaner, more permanent options.
A handful of authorized encampments and many more unauthorized ones already exist in Seattle. Religious institutions are allowed to host tent cities with few restrictions, but encampments are allowed elsewhere only under temporary-use permits. The city funds 1,724 shelter beds in Seattle. An annual count of homeless residents in January found 3,123 people living on the streets of the city and King County.
Murray did not say how many lots should be opened, and his press secretary, Jason Kelly, declined to give a number. The task force called for seven.
Last year, a bill sponsored by Councilman Nick Licata would have allowed tent cities for up to a year on nonreligious properties in industrial and commercial zones. The council voted against it.
Murray said his proposed legislation will build off Licata’s. It calls for organizations operating the encampments to collect data about their clients; city money should only go to organizations that comply, he said. The mayor also said he would push for 150 additional shelter beds by early 2015, including at least 15 reserved for youth.
Murray balked at the task force’s proposal that some community centers be used to provide shelter, saying the centers must continue to focus on services for seniors and children, such as the city’s new preschool program.
The council last month set aside $200,000 in the city’s 2015 budget to help carry out the task force’s recommendations and $100,000 to support encampments.
Murray wrote that he has a separate advisory group working on long-term solutions to the city’s affordable-housing crisis.
Maybe Murray should set up a separate advisory group and task force to evaluate policies that lead to homelessness? He just might find a common thread.