Rantz: Seattle may legalize endless homeless encampments without public input in free for all

Jan 22, 2020, 6:11 AM

Green Lake homeless encampment, Auburn...

A homeless encampment near Green Lake. (KIRO 7 TV)


Seattle City Council is considering a plan that could dramatically increase the number of homeless encampments around the city, including in residential zones, in perpetuity.

What’s worse, under the proposed legislation, some encampments could go up with no required public input and without the ability to appeal the permit granting the encampment. And there’s no real program to ensure the encampments will produce positive results once they’re installed.

It’s an absolute free for all.

Socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is the sponsor of Council Bill 119656 and may get a vote as early as February. There’s reason to believe she has support in the council. Some of the legislation continues previously agreed details surrounding encampment permits. But there are some significant additions that turn this into a troubling development.

Under the legislation, transitional homeless encampments would be allowed “on all publicly owned or private property within the City of Seattle” with a limit of 40, up from the current limit of three. It would permit them “on any property owned or controlled by a religious organization without approval of a permit under the Seattle Land Use Code,” including on land not connected to the principal property.

While the permit would have to be renewed every year, there’s no limit to the amount of renewals, meaning an encampment can stay in the location in perpetuity. They are allowed to hold up to 100 homeless individuals.

HUD’s Dr. Ben Carson chides Seattle’s approach to homelessness

I think it’s fair to argue for more encampments like Tiny Home Villages. In theory they can be effective. But to allow an explosion of these encampments, particularly in residential neighborhoods, without the ability to appeal or even hold public hearings is outrageous — by design. There’s not even a plan in place that would ensure the encampment participants would have a pathway to mental health or addiction treatment, nor an actual permanent home.

Buoyed by a re-election campaign, despite opposition from business interests, Sawant has renewed her assault on the city. She’s not actually helping get people off the street, choosing to leak information to activists so they can stall clean-ups that connect people with services and shelter.

Yet she wants to give the city near carte blanche to install more encampments without even the courtesy of pretending to care about your thoughts. Sounds about right for Sawant. But what about the rest of the council? Will they stop this out-of-control legislation or will they continue to push the city down a path to making us look like a dump?

Tiny Home Villages can work. When you offer case management to people in need and keep them accountable, we’ve seen results that you won’t easily see in other shelter types. But Sawant’s legislation isn’t an actual plan. This is creating a Wild West of encampments. She’s not interested in – nor has she ever been – the important details. This legislation is an example of that. And we’ll all suffer as a consequence.

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Rantz: Seattle may legalize endless homeless encampments without public input in free for all