Budget Update; Budget Investments in Homelessness Response; HOMES Tax Update; Encampment Removals Process; 2018 Investments in Reducing Congestion

December 1st, 2017

Budget Update

Last week, Council approved the City of Seattle’s 2018 budget. This year’s budget process was memorable for the urgent emphasis on our homelessness crisis, rigorous debate, and the bold actions taken by Council to fund solutions. In addition, as Chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, I am proud to have sponsored a number of budget actions to support better transportation options and infrastructure in our growing City.

The complete list of Council amendments to the budget is available here, and you can find the Mayor’s initial proposed budget here.

Budget Investments in Homelessness Response

The Council passed a number of items that ensured that essential services already in place will not be rolled back, such as funding for emergency shelter serving over 230 survivors of domestic and sexual violence, maintaining existing permanent supportive housing services, ensuring two transitional housing programs for homeless foster youth do not close, sustaining support for a homeless child care program, and continued funding for homeless youth employment programs. In addition, I co-sponsored the following budget proposals that add to our homelessness response:

  • Funding for expansion of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to our North Precinct
  • Funding for the creation of a safe consumption site to ensure people have a safe place consume and receive treatment advice from trained nurses
  • Funding for a new homeless youth opportunity center in Capitol Hill
  • Support for tenant outreach and support services
  • Funding for two additional authorized encampments to provide people safe temporary places to be

Update on the HOMES Tax Proposal

Despite our 2018 investments, I believe we need to invest at a much larger scale to make a dent in the homelessness crisis we are facing. The problems around housing and homelessness have continued to grow at a pace faster than we can address due to rising rents, the opioid crisis, an underfunded state mental health system and defunding from the federal government.

Much of the success we’ve seen in transitioning people into housing has been due to additional low-barrier shelter options and permanent housing.  During this year’s budget, now-former Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley and I sponsored a proposal to create more immediate shelter spaces, as well as long-term affordable housing. We called it the HOMES proposal – Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter. The HOMES proposal would have businesses making more than $5 million in revenue a year pay 5 cents an hour per employee ($100/year for a full-time employee), exempting the smallest 90% of businesses in Seattle, and generating about $24 million in revenue annually. Through the City’s ability to bond against this new revenue in the future, starting in 2018 we could have begun to invest nearly $50 million each year in affordable housing, nearly doubling our Housing Levy.

Instead of passing that ongoing revenue source, last week the Council passed Resolution 31782.  This resolution requires the Council to assemble a task force that will develop recommendations for a dedicated progressive revenue source to support people experiencing or at high-risk for homelessness and to raise no less than $25 million a year. If you’d like to participate in this Progressive Revenue Task Force on Housing and Homelessness, you can apply HERE by Monday, December 4th. This task force will deliver recommendations by February 26, 2018, and the Council intends to take legislative action by March 26, 2018. While it is a little delayed, this commitment to pursue progressive revenue options is a huge win for those who have been waiting for something big and bold to address the city’s civil emergency on homelessness.

Encampment Removals Process

How we get people who are living outdoor into more stable living situations continues to be a struggle.  The city’s Navigation Team (a combination of police officers and outreach workers) has had some success in getting more people into shelter in the past year.  This is in part because we have put more resources into outreach and in part because we had a significant increase in good shelter options for people (Georgetown tiny-house village, Navigation Center and Compass First Hill shelters, and two new sanctioned tent encampments all opened up this year).  It is critical that as we move people experiencing homelessness we give them good shelter options to choose from.

To that end, in this budget cycle, we increased requirements about notice and reporting so that the council and the public has more clarity on when and where sweeps are happening and who is ending up in shelter and who simply moves to the next unsanctioned encampment.  We are also requiring recommendations on how to improve the outcomes in this system.

This system will continue to be a struggle until we get significantly more affordable housing options, continue to add good shelter options, and reduce the number of people entering homelessness.

2018 Investments in Reducing Congestion

I’m proud to support the Seattle Department of Transportation’s continued focus on creating a City where everyone can safely get around by foot, transit, or bike, when possible. These investments are critical to reducing congestion and creating a livable and sustainable city. A couple budget items I sponsored to further these goals include:

  • Funding for outreach and assistance to businesses to establish Pre-Tax Commuter Benefit programs.
    • The IRS allows employers to offer a tax-free transit subsidy up to $255 per employee per month for buses, light rail, ferry, water taxi, and vanpool. However, many businesses do not take advantage of this program due to perceived complexities in establishing and administering this program. Offering transit passes allows employers to save up to 9% on that spending in payroll taxes, and employees save between 25% and 40% on their commute expenses. These benefits also encourage transit use, which helps reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. We hope that with additional outreach and assistance, we can change that perception and get more people commuting by transit to work.
  • Funding to examine issues related to diversion and congestion on local streets due to tolling on SR-99.
    • WSDOT is bringing tolling to Seattle, with the opening of the new State Route 99 tunnel through downtown. That means that we are likely to experience diversion on our streets by people looking to avoid tolls. Early models indicate that this diversion could have a significant negative impact on congestion on city streets and be specifically detrimental to transit and freight travel times. The study would focus on the broader equity implications of congestion pricing in Seattle (particularly who is driving at what times) and explore options to minimize diversion so that transit service continues to operate reliably.

Thanks to all who engaged with our office over the last couple months. If you have further questions or comments about the budget, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office at mike.obrien@seattle.gov, or 206-684-8800.

In Community,

Councilmember Mike O'Brien Signature

Councilmember Mike O’Brien


Focusing on Homelessness Solutions that Work

October 24th, 2017

As we close in on the two-year anniversary of our City’s mayor having declared a “civil emergency” around homelessness, Seattle’s housing crisis is still very visible across the city.  It’s obvious that we need more money for immediate fixes – like funding emergency shelters and diversion programs to keep people off the streets and out of jail – as well as long-term solutions like building additional housing units.

While the current Mayor’s budget includes some marginal investments, I’m afraid it sets us up for failure, because it doubles down on sweeps as a solution to the homeless crisis, literally almost doubling the amount we are spending this year to $2 million.

How about we invest in what works instead?

Earlier today Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley and I vocalized our support for an amendment to the Mayor’s 2018 budget which would effectively tax the top 10% grossing businesses in Seattle to fund more 24-hour homeless shelters, affordable housing, safe lots for people living in their vehicles, and an expansion of the nationally-recognized Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. Watch my remarks here.

Councilmember Mike O'Brien discussing the HOMES proposal

Our Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter (HOMES) proposal creates immediate shelter and long-term housing options to address this crisis. We know that HOMES won’t fix every factor of homelessness in the city, but it’s a significant investment that supports successful strategies, and will make a difference.

The proposal asks that businesses making more than $5 million in revenue a year pay 5 cents an hour per employee ($100/year for a full-time employee). The proposal will exempt the smallest 90% of businesses in Seattle (those that gross less than $5 million a year) and is expected to generate $24 million annually. Most of that money will be directed to affordable housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness, and could help hundreds of people a year find shelter and housing.

We’ve created a lot of wealth in this City over the past few years, but that wealth has been concentrated at the top, and has exacerbated inequality.  That’s why we invite the businesses that are creating, and benefiting from, this City’s boom to alleviate the unintended consequences of their success, and to contribute to systemic changes in the city that can help all our residents thrive.

The proposal will be discussed over the course of the City’s budget process, with a final vote on the legislation anticipated on Monday, November 20th.

For more information about the HOMES proposal, please visit: http://www.seattle.gov/council/meet-the-council/mike-obrien/homes-proposal

 

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One Step Closer to Lowering Barriers for ADUs – We Want Your Input!

October 2nd, 2017

Housing affordability is one of the biggest issues we face in Seattle today. The City has identified a need for providing a mix of housing types at prices accessible to people at all levels of income for homeowners and renters alike. I believe lowering the barriers to creating accessory dwelling units (ADUs) is an important part of addressing affordability across the city. We’re beginning the environmental review process to analyze potential effects of encouraging more ADUs in Seattle, and we want your input.

Backyard cottages and in-law units can provide more affordable options for housing in neighborhoods where homes are often unaffordable to many people. ADUs are small, secondary dwelling units inside, attached to, or in the rear yard of a single-family house. A detached ADU (DADU), often called a “backyard cottage,” is a separate structure allowed in the rear yard of certain single-family-zoned lots. DADUs can be new structures or created through conversion of an existing structure, like a garage.

Seattle has relatively few backyard cottages right now. In May 2016, the Seattle City Council released a proposal to make it easier for homeowners to build backyard cottages and in-law units in Seattle and increase housing options for Seattle renters.

The initial analysis from the City’s Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) suggests that adding a backyard cottage on just five percent of eligible single-family lots could create about 4,000 new housing units.

Based on a decision from the City’s Hearing Examiner in December 2016, the City is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to review the potential environmental impacts of the proposal, which would:

  • allow an attached ADU and a backyard cottage on the same lot
  • remove the existing off-street parking and owner-occupancy requirements
  • change some development standards that regulate the size and location of backyard cottages

The EIS process includes several opportunities for community members to weigh in on the analysis, and I encourage you to do so. We will kick-off the EIS process with a 30-day scoping comment period beginning on October 2, 2017, and anticipate releasing the Draft EIS in spring 2018 and the Final EIS in summer 2018. The full timeline is available online.

Share your feedback!

The first phase of the EIS process is to determine the scope of the study, and the City wants your input on what to consider and analyze as we explore allowing more ADUs in Seattle’s neighborhoods.  During the scoping phase, you can help determine the alternatives the City will study, potential environmental impacts to consider, and possible measures to avoid or reduce the effects of the proposal.

DEADLINE:  Comments are due by 5:00 p.m. on November 1, 2017. You can share your input in several ways:

For more information, visit seattle.gov/council/ADU-EIS.

What is an EIS? An EIS is a tool to inform decision making about the positive and negative effects of a proposal. The proposal might be a project, like construction of a new building or road, or a new policy or plan that could affect the environment. Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requires Environmental Impact Statements so that the public, tribes, and other public agencies can help identify a proposal’s environmental impacts, as well as strategies for reducing or avoiding them. Decision-makers can then approve, modify, or deny the proposal as appropriate.


Seattle Committed to Paris and the Climate

June 22nd, 2017

After President Trump announced his intentions to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord earlier this month, Mayor Murray announced Seattle’s intention to meet or exceed Seattle’s target of the federal Clean Power Plan, joining with dozens of cities and several states in the effort. If the United States Government and Donald Trump aren’t going to take climate change seriously, then cities and states will come together at a sub-national level to step up.

Last week, I sponsored a Resolution that was unanimously adopted by Council to affirm our commitments to the Paris Climate Accord, including the potential to go beyond Seattle’s already ambitious Climate Action Plan, and also calls upon Puget Sound Energy to demonstrate leadership by rejecting fossil fuel infrastructure.

More than half the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050 cities will likely be bursting with almost 70% of the people on the planet. We also know that cities account almost 2/3 of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Cities can also be incubators for the solutions to climate change, and we must act now.

Seattle is no stranger to taking on local issues with regional – or national – significance.  So it makes sense that our city officials continue to tackle climate change head on by reducing pollution, improving aging infrastructure, and making walking, biking, and transit more attractive to residents, no matter who occupies the White House.

We embarked on this mission under Mayor Greg Nickels, when he led our city’s involvement in global agreements like the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and tried to tackle these problems head on.  We continued that tradition last year when many local leaders and I had a chance to go to Paris to be a part of the global climate conference there.  It was incredible to see what cities are doing around the world to make meaningful strides towards ending our dependence on fossil fuels, and many of them were efforts we’re already undertaking in Seattle.

The most important thing we can do locally is to create viable alternatives for people to get around without the use of fossil fuels.  That’s where my passions for expanding transit access and improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure, making land use decisions to create denser cities, and ending our addiction to fossil fuels, come from. I am also firmly committed to our City’s Equity and Environment Initiative, which works to ensure that those most disproportionately experiencing the impacts of climate change – people of color, immigrants, refugees, people with low income and people with limited-English proficiency – can be the leading voices and beneficiaries in our efforts to fight climate change. We will continue and expand these efforts, no matter who occupies the White House.

We must also call upon other local leaders to step up their efforts if we are going to fill the gap in leadership at the federal level. In particular, Puget Sound Energy continues to rely on coal power, and is the owner of a plant that is the 3rd largest carbon polluter in the US. It is time for PSE to walk its talk and retire the entire Colstrip coal plant by 2025 and publicly commit to replacing the plant with 100% renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions.

We also call on state leaders to act on climate-related efforts and deny permits for all new fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Washington, including the proposed nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, WA.  I’m disappointed, and frankly outraged, that the final permits went through for the world’s largest methanol refinery in Kalama, WA. The expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and the export of fossil fuels significantly undermines the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement; it puts us backwards on the path towards saving the planet; and contradicts Inslee’s previous commitment to fulfill the Paris Climate Accords that he made just a couple weeks ago.

The future of the human race depends on decisions we make in the present, and in response to choices we’ve made in the past. In the absence of federal leadership, we have a moral imperative to take bold action the City, State, and Regional level to fight for our future existence.


Upcoming Office Hours and Legislative Updates

April 4th, 2017

Upcoming Office Hours

We are once again bringing City Hall to District 6 on Wednesday April 5! Please join me at the Ballard Public Library from 4:30-6:30pm. Bring your questions and concerns about your neighborhood. There is no official sign-up and one-on-one meetings will be available based on first-come, first-serve.

Greenlake Community Center

The Green Lake Community Center is a true “gem” of Seattle. While the building itself is showing signs of age, the community it continues to foster is as powerful as ever. I deeply value this community space and want to ensure it remains enjoyable and accessible for all the members of District 6 and the larger community. The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department has identified that the community center needs major capital improvements. It has been estimated that the necessary rebuild would cost more than $25 million. There has been much community conversation about achieving these improvements. In a Community Center Strategic Plan document last year, the Parks Department expressed concern about their ability to fund the rebuild and suggested exploring alternate arrangements including long term financing and partnering with non-profits. Some community members have expressed strong skepticism about a partnership and frustration that ongoing maintenance is falling behind. While I am open to exploring creative solutions, any plan will need broad community support to earn my backing. I look forward to working with the Parks Department and community members to find a financially sound and community supported plan to move forward.

Update on Backyard Cottage Legislation and Next Steps


In May of 2016, I released a proposal that would make it easier for more homeowners to build backyard cottages and mother-in-law units in Seattle, and provide more affordable housing options for Seattle renters.  This past December, we received a response from the Hearing Examiner that reversed the City’s SEPA determination of non-significance. After thorough examination of her response, we have decided to pursue a full environmental impact statement (EIS).  This process will likely take a year to complete. When the EIS is complete, we hope to bring legislation to committee by mid-2018.

Final Route Chosen for Burke-Gilman Missing Link

After more than 20 years of disputes, Seattle’s biking community and members of Ballard’s maritime industry have agreed on a route to complete the missing link of the Burke-Gilman Trail along Shilshole Avenue through Ballard. This route represents the interests of the thousands of people who have written comments, attended rallies, and publicly testified for the “Shilshole South” Alternative. The Final Environmental Impact Statement will be completed this Spring, with construction anticipated to start in 2018. While there is still the possibility of an appeal, the City does not anticipate further delays, and I will do everything I can to accelerate the timeline.



Update on Backyard Cottage Legislation & Next Steps

March 27th, 2017

Affordability in housing is one of the biggest issues we face in Seattle today. The City of Seattle has identified the need for more housing at prices accessible to people at all levels of income, both for homeowners and renters. In May of 2016, I released a proposal that would make it easier for more homeowners to build backyard cottages and mother-in-law units in Seattle, and provide more affordable housing options for Seattle renters.  The bill proposes a series of changes to make it more feasible for homeowners to build additional units.

Following the release, the Queen Anne Community Council appealed to the hearing examiner, challenging the City’s SEPA determination of non-significance. This past December we received the response from the Hearing Examiner that reversed the determination.  After thorough examination of her response, we have decided to pursue a full environmental impact statement (EIS).  This process will likely take a year to complete.  The full EIS will enable us to look deeply into the possible impacts of the proposed code changes and inform our proposal before we bring it to the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee.

There will be multiple opportunities for input during the EIS process.  We will keep you informed of these opportunities for public comment and encourage you to engage.  When the EIS is complete, we hope to bring legislation to committee by mid-2018.

I believe lowering the barriers to creating backyard cottages and in-law apartments is an important part of addressing affordability across the city, and am looking forward to continuing to pursue this legislation.

If you have further questions, please reach out to Susie Levy – susie.levy@seattle.gov or call our office at 206-684-8800.


10% Affordable Housing Requirement in the University District Rezone

February 16th, 2017

The Council is preparing to vote on the University District Rezone this coming Tuesday, February 21st.  This is the first legislation that will incorporate the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation, which will require developers to contribute to affordable housing.  While we passed the framework legislation for commercial and residential buildings in 2015 and 2016, this will be the first legislation to implement it.  We have the opportunity to require that the tallest buildings, receiving the largest height increase, set aside 10% of new units for people making no more than 60% AMI.  I am currently unsure if we have the votes to make that happen.

The legislation is currently written to set aside 9% in the high-rise zones, and my proposal would make that a 10% set aside.  It is not a huge jump, but we believe it could create an additional 44-64 additional units over the next 10 years in the University District. It also sets the precedent for future rezones that we require significant housing contributions for significant height increases.

Thus far, the main arguments I have heard in opposition is that my proposed increase would make it infeasible to build in the U-District.  I don’t agree. The estimated costs per square foot for building high-rise construction in the U-District is $284-303/SF.  My amendment would raise that cost by $2.25/SF to $286-305/SF.  I don’t believe this difference will make or break a project.

For example, a new 300 unit high-rise residential building would need to set aside 27 units.  My amendment would require an additional 3 units be set aside for people making 60% AMI or less, bringing the total to 30 units.  Again, I don’t believe this is infeasible. But it does set a precedent.
MHA Table
When we finalized our MHA framework legislation that sets in place the nuts and bolts of the program, we made clear our intent to require greater set asides in areas with significant increased capacities and areas in the city with a high risk of displacement.  This is our chance to operationalize that intent and set the tone for future rezones.

If not now, when? The best way to ensure strong requirements is to incorporate this change into the bill this Tuesday.  If you feel strongly, the easiest way to communicate with council is to email council@seattle.gov.  


Seeking Justice for Greenwood Businesses Blown Apart by PSE

February 7th, 2017

Nearly one year ago an explosion rocked the Greenwood neighborhood early on the morning of March 9.  The Puget Sound Energy (PSE) gas line explosion traumatized the neighborhood and decimated local businesses. Recently I had the opportunity to stand with five area business owners who shared their stories about the devastating effects on the neighborhood, the crippling effects on their small businesses, and the burdensome bureaucracy that has stalled efforts around reimbursement to stabilize their financial outlook.

It’s staggering that no one paid with their lives in an explosion of this magnitude.  But the true cost is the profit lost by the community.  Together we walked through their shuttered or broken businesses which served as a painful reminder of the true cost of recovery and repair. It’s clear that many local businesses are still suffering from a blast that was the result of negligence.  Meanwhile, PSE has not offered any compensation to these individuals, and hasn’t changed their internal policies that would otherwise create safer conditions for all PSE customers and the surrounding community. If our local businesses continue to struggle or shutter all together under a non-response by PSE, then how can we be sure the company won’t be negligent again?  We need to know the that places we live and work are secure and being monitored; like bridges or oil trains, we defer to the experts to check all the natural gas lines, and determined that they are safe, and will not cause a devastating explosion like the one experienced in Greenwood.

Councilmember Mike O'Brien's Signature  

Media Mentions

Greenwood businesses still reeling from explosion seek ‘justice’ from PSE| KUOW

Take responsibility for explosion, Greenwood business owners tell PSE| My Northwest

PSE hasn’t tracked abandoned gas lines; businesses want utility to pay for Explosion| The Seattle Times

Businesses affected by last year’s natural gas explosion call Puget Sound Energy negligent and call for the utility to accept responsibility| PhinneyWood

Greenwood businesses affected by last year’s gas explosion want PSE to pay| Q13


Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents

September 23rd, 2016

Yesterday in the Human Services and Public Health Committee, Council discussed the “Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents” ordinance, and I’m writing to give an update on the Council deliberations so far. Many of the comments I’ve been hearing in the last few weeks continue to be reflected in the conversation in Committee. Some of the major points of discussion include:

  • The fact that we continue to have people sleeping outdoors is not acceptable. There was widespread consensus that the legislation is not meant to be permanent, but rather reinforce the idea that homelessness should be temporary. While we are working on more stable shelter and housing solutions, we need to figure out how to respond to the population that is sleeping outdoors with nowhere else to go. That’s why I support a sunset clause to the legislation, meaning it will no longer be in effect after a certain period of time.
  • The City can do a better job of transitioning people into permanent housing. The Mayor’s office has recently come out with proposal to create systemic change in the way we respond to homelessness, called Pathways Home. As we explore this further, I look forward to continuing to work with our Human Service Department and service providers to meet the challenges of housing our unsheltered residents. But even the proposed strategies, in the best case scenario, will take 2 years to fully implement. The question remains of what to do in the meantime.
  • While sleeping outdoors is not inherently safe, there are some spaces that pose grave, immediate threats to safety, or places with hazardous conditions, that are not suitable for any period of time. The Committee spent a considerable amount of time defining a categorically “unsuitable” or unsafe location, and it seems like there is agreement that sidewalks, schools, areas near high volumes of traffic, and active spaces in parks, are not suitable. There was also agreement that we need to create the opportunity for community to weigh in on what is unsuitable or unsafe in their specific neighborhoods. And conversely, we need input on where there are suitable spaces for unsheltered residents while we work to transition people into appropriate shelters or housing.
  • Criminal law will continue to be enforced. Nothing in the ordinance prevents the Seattle Police Department from removing or arresting people who they believe are involved in criminal activity.

Thanks to all who have been engaged in trying to help address the ongoing crisis on homelessness. The next Council Committee discussion will be Wednesday, September 28th, at 2pm in City Hall. Please feel free to reach out to my office via email at mike.obrien@seattle.gov, or phone at 206-684-8800 with questions or concerns.

In Community,

Mike


Addressing Effective Strategies Towards Encampments

September 6th, 2016

Since the declaration of the State of Emergency on Homelessness last November, the City has conducted 441 cleanups, or “sweeps” of unsanctioned encampments. Current City protocol provides homeless residents 72 hours’ notice before each cleanup occurs and access to outreach workers to connect to shelter and services. In reality, the notice can be as little as 24 hours, and an outreach worker, if they are able to connect with anyone at all, often does not have available shelters or services for individuals that meet their needs. Physical belongings are misplaced or trashed. An unsheltered person is then left on the sidewalk with nothing and nowhere else to go.

This reality is perhaps the reason why, out of the 441 sweeps conducted since November, 71 unsanctioned encampment sites have had to be repeatedly swept, as people kept coming back. This is perhaps why social service providers in Ballard saw about a 30% increase in foot traffic for their services after a concentrated effort at sweeping unsanctioned encampments in the U-District. In another area of the City, the Wing Luke museum directly attributes the increase in homeless population in the International District to the latest efforts at sweeping the I-5 Duwamish Greenbelt, commonly known as the “Jungle.” The City’s Department of Finance & Administrative Services (FAS) recently reported that in the vast majority of areas from which people are evicted, existing residents or others return almost immediately.

By continuing to conduct sweeps in the same manner, we are expending valuable resources and energy on a strategy that only shifts the problem around and offers a false sense of security for a few people. If our larger goal is to transition individuals and families into permanent housing, then continually displacing them, destabilizing their lives, and compromising relationships and connections to services is not producing the results we need.

About a month ago, I hosted a public forum to hear from community members grappling with public safety and public health challenges in District 6. Almost 200 people attended from all walks of life – ranging from service providers in the District, neighborhood residents, and those living without shelter – to share their thoughts on solutions to these challenges. As attendees talked about encountering needles in their local parks and about other unsanitary conditions as a result of unsheltered people sleeping in public spaces, they proposed solutions to immediately reduce this harm – sharps containers, more public restrooms, garbage pickup, etc., while also advocating for long-term approaches such as more mental health treatment and addiction services, and more housing. I support increased funding for this harm reduction approach, which addresses the immediate public health and safety concerns while allowing us to concentrate our efforts on stabilizing and sheltering as many individuals as possible.

Destabilizing and relocating people without other services or housing to offer works against our harm reduction efforts. That is why I support Council consideration of legislation backed by numerous community organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, and Columbia Legal Services, titled “Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents.” The legislation basically states that if there is not another specific public use for an area, and if we have nowhere else to send someone, we will not remove an unsheltered person from that location. The legislation still allows for, and in some cases requires, cleaning and garbage pickup of public areas. It also allows for the City to remove encampments from unsafe or unsuitable locations, like sidewalks and schools, or other areas with a specific public purpose. This legislation also does not limit the police from enforcing criminal law. The legislation aims to make our engagement with unhoused individuals more efficient and allows them to self-stabilize in the most appropriate spaces available unless those people can be provided a permanent housing solution.

I understand that there have been concerns about this legislation, some of which have been addressed in the most recent version of the ordinance, and have also been discussed at length in other forums. I intend for this legislation to be vetted through the public legislative process in parallel to, and informed by, the Mayor’s Unsanctioned Encampments Cleanup Protocols Task Force. I believe the Mayor and I have similar goals, and by introducing the legislation now, we can best ensure full consideration of our sweeps protocols before the winter months.

I also don’t want to assert that this legislation is a complete solution to the homelessness crisis, as we have long-term needs we must continue to tackle in the face of declining state and federal funding. We need housing that is affordable and accessible, better mental health and substance use services, and an economic system that allows everyone to thrive. But we must continue this long-term work while responding to people without shelter in an effective, humane, and organized way. The Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents legislation, in combination with short-term harm-reduction measures, allows the City to focus efforts on immediate public health and safety needs while eliminating ineffective strategies that only move unhoused people around to different areas.

 


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