LOCAL NEWS

Unlikely alliance hopes to force Seattle to take compassionate action on homelessness

Apr 2, 2021, 6:28 AM | Updated: Apr 5, 2021, 8:27 am
Seattle homeless...
Seattle's homeless crisis continues. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

November 2021 will mark six years since Seattle declared a homeless emergency, and since then, most people will tell you the situation has only worsened. That’s even more true after a year of COVID, and enough is enough according to a coalition of unlikely allies behind the Compassion Seattle group.

Survey highlights homeless crisis as ‘top concern’ among Seattle residents

“For too long, our city has allowed this problem to continue to get worse and worse and worse, and Seattleites have been told that it’s an either/or choice that you can be supportive and compassionate to the people living on the streets, or you can expect to be able to go into your park and have it clean and I think that’s a false choice,” said Erin Goodman, Executive Director of the SoDo Business Improvement Area.

“I think we can do better and that we can work on a plan that does both, that says it’s OK to be focused on strong behavioral health and housing and processes to get people inside, and to work to have parks that are available to all,” she added.

Goodman, former Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess, the Downtown Seattle Association, and others concerned about the state of downtown are among those joining forces on a citizen’s initiative for a Seattle charter amendment that would not only force the city council and mayor to act on homelessness, but to do so in a very specific way – with a focus on compassion, not just clearing out encampments.

“It requires the city to, in a dedicated fund, fund behavioral health services, produce a significant number of additional emergency and permanent housing units, expand their crisis rapid response capability, and further invest in diversion programs for people that are cycling through without resolution,” Goodman explained.

The proposal calls for a coordinated plan to move people experiencing homelessness into emergency and permanent housing, instead of living in encampments, including enhanced shelters, tiny houses, hotel-motel rooms, and other non-congregate emergency or permanent housing.

The plan would also require the city to clear tents and encampments from parks, sidewalks, streets, and other public areas as soon as those initial changes are made and a system in place.

“The city has a commitment to the parks and the people of Seattle to ensure that those spaces are available for use by the general public,” Goodman said.

Normally, you would likely see some members of the group behind this charter amendment in opposite sides of the ring, with some fighting for business and others fighting for homeless individuals and their rights. But the big difference here is they’re working together for a common goal.

“I believe this is a first step in true collaboration between the business and provider communities. Chronic unsheltered homelessness is too big of an issue for any one sector to go it alone,” said Paul Lambros, CEO at Plymouth Housing.

“This framework offers the promise of actually prioritizing the people who have been left out for so long and making a plan that will reach and sustain them with assistance they welcome,” said Lisa Daugaard, director at the Public Defender Association, and part of the alliance.

“We’re heartened whenever we see the need for more housing amplified,” said Marty Kooistra, executive director at Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County. “But the rich promise offered by safe, healthy, and affordable housing can only be fully realized when housing is addressed as a part of a comprehensive strategy that recognizes, respects, and responds to all challenges to a person’s well-being and stability. These interrelated challenges require not only urgency and clarity, but the kind of forceful cross-sector resolve this action so powerfully embodies.”

As long as the declared civil emergency related to homelessness is in effect, the charter amendment directs the city government to accelerate the production of emergency and permanent housing by waiving building permit fees, treating housing permit applications as “first-in-line” for expedited treatment, and refunding to the payee the city’s portion of the sales tax paid for these facilities. The amendment also allows the city to waive normal land-use regulations to the full extent permitted by state law, so emergency and permanent housing can be more quickly established.

Should the group gather the required 33,000-plus signatures to get this to voters, it would be on the November ballot. Should it come out on top, the city would be bound by the amended charter, which would mandate an additional 2,000 shelter beds or permanent housing.

The group also hopes to address prolific offenders.

“The city has a public safety obligation and that has to be paramount, but within that can we find a better way for individuals with a certain classification of crimes, and what can be done if we look at both pre-arrest and post-arrest and develop the system,” she asked.

This would come from existing funding, according to Goodman.

“This would be a dedicated fund at the city in the charter calls for a minimum of 12% of general funds to be put into that account this is based on our look at the 2020 budget, and based on 2020 numbers at 12% would add an additional $16 million,” Goodman explained.

“We also feel like the city has the resources and the capability to when focused on one goal versus different pet projects,” she continued. “We think that now using the city’s funds to build capacity through federal and state and county in working with the regional homeless (authority), getting it off the ground now, we feel it can make a great impact with the funds that are already set aside in the budget.”

Opinion: Seattle homeless camp sweeps are built to fail

Part of that impact comes from the behavioral health response, specifically rapid crisis response.

“We have a small version of this now with the city’s Health One unit, but there has also been a lot of conversation at city council about creating a service provider-based program like a CAHOOTS or STARS,” Goodman noted. “The charter does not prescribe one over the other, but we need to be looking at a different response for people that are having either a mental health crisis or behavioral disorders in public.”

And this is also about racial equity.

“BIPOC individuals are disproportionately represented, and this charter amendment wants the city to investigate and understand why, and look at the systems, both on the city level and societal level that contribute to that, and work to address those,” she said.

But it is also not a full slap on the lack of confidence in the city council?

“We need to work together,” Goodman said. “It’s not (directed) specifically at the city council or the mayor. But what I hear from my ratepayers is that they don’t feel like the city is moving in any direction, and that the status quo is the plan.”

“It came time for a bunch of us to get together and say, ‘OK well, what would we do? How would we design this?'” she continued. “That requires input from business organizations, from government, and from social service providers. Because if we don’t create a plan that is well rounded, inclusive of best practices, and effective when evaluated, then we’re setting it up to fail. It’s essential that we work all together as a team.”

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

Local News

airport...
Frank Sumrall

State Rep: ‘None of these locations are suitable’ for a future airport

According to Jason Rantz, the acting chairman of CACC, Warren Hendrickson, stated he believes none of the airport locations will move forward.
18 hours ago
(KIRO 7)...
Shawn Garrett, KIRO 7 News

Deputies seize nearly 100 pounds of drugs during Tacoma arrest

Deputies with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department seized nearly 100 pounds of drugs while arresting a man with a felony warrant in Tacoma
18 hours ago
police pursuit...
Matt Markovich

Source of pursuit deaths updates controversial data

Stats used by legislators to consider changing police pursuit laws may be in question.
18 hours ago
recycle...
Nicole Jennings

‘Recycle, don’t throw out’ newest message from King County initiative

King County has launched a new initiative to get people to recycle or reuse items before automatically throwing them out.
18 hours ago
belltown...
KIRO Newsradio Newsdesk

Pedestrian hit by train in Belltown, police investigate

Seattle Police are investigating after a man was hit by a train near Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood Thursday night.
18 hours ago
Frasier...
Bill Kaczaraba

Lovable radio host Frasier returns, but not to Seattle

Frasier, the lovable but loveless radio host who put Seattle on the map will not be returning to the Emerald City.
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Unlikely alliance hopes to force Seattle to take compassionate action on homelessness