Seattle councilmember touts ‘win-win’ approach to addressing downtown homeless camps

Jun 23, 2021, 9:24 AM

Homeless Seattle, Andrew Lewis...

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis. (Seattle City Council)

(Seattle City Council)

As Seattle continues to grapple with an ongoing homeless crisis and the growing presence of encampments across the city, City Councilmember Andrew Lewis believes that a new program known as JustCARE could provide the right formula to finally address those issues.

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JustCARE operates as a collaboration between the city and a coalition of business, service providers, and outreach teams that work together to get the unsheltered into housing, while aiming to keep public spaces clear of encampments without involving law enforcement.

The program recently saw success along Third Avenue in downtown Seattle, where tents were cleared, the street was cleaned, and 33 people who had been living on the street in the area were voluntarily moved into available homeless shelter spaces. That’s all part of what Lewis describes as a “team effort” that eliminates the region’s more siloed approach, and instead has nonprofits and service providers pooling resources with county and city leaders.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he told KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show. “When I got onto the council in January of 2020, I said that this is the way that I was going to try to lead and bring people together — making sure we were embracing the politics of collaboration instead of conflict, and looking at how we could use our resources more efficiently and effectively.”

“It took it took a while to get everything rolling, but once you really sit down with people and start talking about our mutual interest as business owners and as service providers, how we all have the same goal, which is to get folks inside, things can gel pretty quickly,” he added.

In terms of efforts to clear Third Avenue, that saw 14 people placed into Tiny Homes through the city’s HOPE Team, and then another 15 to 17 people moved into hotels run by JustCARE partners.

That collaborative work was especially important, Lewis notes, with the pandemic winding to a close and the state scheduled to reopen in full by June 30.

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“By working together, we were able to solve for everybody, avoid displacement, get people inside, and get those businesses on Third Avenue in a position where they can open again,” Lewis described.

JustCARE will continue to expand in the weeks and month ahead as well, thanks to an additional $9 million allocated by councilmembers, with the goal of eventually addressing a growing encampment at City Hall Park next to the King County Courthouse.

“[That’s] a very high priority for my office,” he said. “I think that we can have a similar collaboration with Courthouse Park, but we’ve got to make sure that we go out and really see what everyone can bring to the table.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Seattle councilmember touts ‘win-win’ approach to addressing downtown homeless camps