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Seattle homelessness proposal gathers enough signatures to make ballot

Jul 1, 2021, 4:21 PM
compassion seattle, seattle homeless...
A homeless camp in Seattle. (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

A charter amendment that would force the City of Seattle to act with urgency on homelessness has gathered enough signatures to make the November ballot.

“We are pleased to announce that we have turned in 64,155 petition signatures to qualify Charter Amendment 29 for the November 2021 ballot!,” Compassion Seattle wrote in a newsletter on Thursday.

Alliance hopes to force Seattle to take action on homelessness

Compassion Seattle made it clear that it wasn’t easy to gather over 64,000 signatures in the city.

“Our team has endured four-and-a-half weeks of harassment, theft of petitions, assault and significant time delays, yet that did not stop us. The 64,155 signatures reflect a mandate from the people of Seattle that action to bring our unsheltered neighbors inside and to clear our parks can no longer wait.”

The group’s proposed amendment to the city charter would mandate an additional 2,000 shelter beds or permanent housing units within a one-year period 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.

Additionally, it places a requirement on the city “to ensure that parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces and sidewalks and streets remain open and clear of encampments.”

SoDo Business Improvement Area Executive Director Erin Goodman, former City Council President Tim Burgess, and former King County Executive Ron Sims, among others, make up the leadership for Compassion Seattle.

King County Elections must now validate the signatures — an amount that is nearly doubled the 33,000 required signatures to get on the ballot — before the Seattle City Council can act to add Charter Amendment 29 to the November ballot.

Critics from “House our Neighbors” argue that the amendment “doesn’t provide enough time or funds to build the adequate volume of housing needed to move people from encampments into shelter beds.”

ACLU Washington claims the charter amendment would “enshrine Seattle’s current ineffective and harmful practices of sweeping unhoused residents and their homes from public places, while doing nothing to meaningfully address homelessness.”

The ACLU also said the charter amendment contains no requirements specifically mandating permanent housing, and that it “criminalizes poverty,” while focusing mainly on “destroying unhoused peoples’ homes and shuffling them all over Seattle.” Read the ACLU’s full release here.

Compassion Seattle responded to the ACLU’s concerns by stating that the charter “does not promote sweeps, nor do we believe sweeps to be an effective practice to help those living unsheltered.”

Its response continued with the following:

Charter Amendment 29 does not criminalize homelessness; it says nothing about law enforcement. It does require expansion of diversion programs so police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the courts can decide on a case-by-case basis whether treatment and other individualized services are better than arrest and prosecution.

Charter Amendment 29 is focused on resolving the crisis of unsheltered people living in our parks, playgrounds, sidewalks, and other public spaces. This is a crisis we can all see with our own eyes. The Amendment is about addressing the needs of those living outside today, not in several years when more affordable housing is available. Of course, we acknowledge the need for more permanent affordable housing, including supportive housing, but our housing supply shortage doesn’t mean we should ignore those living outdoors today.

Charter Amendment 29 recognizes the racial inequities among those experiencing homelessness and prioritizes specific steps to address this important issue.

Charter Amendment 29 is all about increasing behavioral health services and creating more emergency housing units so people can be brought inside and receive the help they deserve. And it’s about doing it now, not waiting for the housing supply shortage to be resolved at some future time. The conditions people are living in outside in our community are often unsafe, unhealthy, and inhumane. Our neighbors deserve better and maintaining the status quo only hurts our chances of making any real, measurable progress. We can do better.

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Seattle homelessness proposal gathers enough signatures to make ballot