Harrell, Gonzalez square off in mayoral debate over how to address Seattle homeless encampments

Sep 30, 2021, 5:03 PM | Updated: Oct 1, 2021, 6:36 am
Seattle homeless debate...
Seattle mayoral candidates Lorena Gonzalez and Bruce Harrell. (Seattle City Council, Flickr Creative Commons)
(Seattle City Council, Flickr Creative Commons)

Seattle mayoral candidates Bruce Harrell and Lorena Gonzalez participated in a debate Wednesday evening to discuss their respective proposals to address the city’s homeless crisis.

Seattle mayoral candidate unveils plan to address city’s homeless crisis

While both Harrell and Gonzalez agree on the need to rapidly scale up Seattle’s available shelter spaces, the difference between the two lies in their philosophies surrounding how to achieve that goal.

Speaking to his own priorities, Harrell frequently cited the need to keep sidewalks, public spaces, and parks clear of homeless encampments, arguing that “it is inhumane to allow people to stay in those parks under those conditions, without heat, without water, without services.”

“When we get into our colder months, I do not want people on sidewalks, in parks, in school grounds living in a tent,” he described. “I want to be able to recreate the communities many of them may want.”

Harrell has also gone on record with his support for Compassion Seattle’s now-defunct ballot initiative, which would have mandated the funding of new shelter spaces, while codifying requirements to keep parks and public spaces clear of camps.

Gonzalez voiced criticism for that support, pointing to large-scale contributions to Compassion Seattle from several prominent Republican donors.

“Sadly, Mr. Harrell continues to evade answering the critical question about sweeps, and I ask myself why? What is there to hide here?” she posited. “And here’s the truth: Mr. Harrell’s homelessness plan is a verbatim facsimile of a corporate and Republican-funded plan commonly referred to as Compassion Seattle, and all you have to do is follow the money here.”

“The very same real estate developers, corporate CEOs, and Republicans who went big on Compassion Seattle have gone in big on supporting my opponent, and that is because the foundation of his plan is to legitimize sweeps,” she added.

Harrell calls on city to implement homeless initiative struck from ballot

Gonzalez went on to express that she is still “very dedicated to ending encampments,” outlining a plan to “immediately operationalize the millions of dollars … to stand up the additional shelter and housing options that are going to be necessary to make meaningful offers of housing to those who are outside.”

Harrell questioned whether support from conservative donors would actually affect his own policy decisions, stating that “no one can control me.”

“I am very values-driven,” he said. “The people who support me, they want to help.”

Detailing his own plan, he vowed to have 1,000 shelter units “made and built” within the first six months of his mayoral term, totaling 2,000 after a year. Harrell would also look to publish data so that voters “can see the efficiency of our dollars at work.”

“You’ll see individualized case management and services,” he said. “Seattle should not look at this as though we have a scarcity of resources; at the same time we pursue every type of progressive tax revenue the state has given us. I believe this is going to be a team approach in our city, and that’s the new narrative.”

Gonzalez’s own proposal for her first months in office was similarly focused on encampments, including an initiative to “quickly and immediately assess every single encampment in every single geographic location throughout our city in which people are currently surviving and living outside.”

From there, she would then look to “create individual service plans, and immediately identify who is ready to come inside based on an adequate offer of shelter.”

You can watch the full debate here.

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Harrell, Gonzalez square off in mayoral debate over how to address Seattle homeless encampments