‘Encampments pose public safety issues:’ progressive Seattle councilmember changes tune

Apr 17, 2022, 8:34 AM | Updated: 8:52 am


Councilmember Andrew Lewis (Seattle City Council via Flickr)

(Seattle City Council via Flickr)

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, the council’s committee chair for homelessness, insists that homeless encampments are dangerous, a sentiment that many Seattleites share— it well might have elected Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell— but is significant in that it could set the tone for the city’s position on encampments moving into the summer.

A recent removal of a homeless encampment outside of Seattle City Hall— which involved an abrupt action by the city following a standoff with an advocacy volunteer group “Stop the Sweeps” — drew criticism from homeless advocates for the lack of resources provided by outreach coordinators at the time of the removal. That kind of action is a departure from the Seattle City Council’s pandemic-era homeless-response strategy in months and years past: now former Council President Lorena Gonzalez used “stop the sweeps” language in her bid for mayor.

In February, Councilmember Andrew Lewis had asked Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell to sanction specific locations for homeless encampments as the city matriculates a more coordinated and long-term solution to the perennial problem. He has since backed off that approach, calling encampments “inhumane,” necessitating more direct action on behalf of the city to get people into transitional housing — Lewis called out tiny house villages and JustCARE in an interview with KTTH’s Jason Rantz as examples of those housing options.

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“I think it’s helping give voice to a lot of folks who have kind of been in the center of this discussion, who are saying, ‘look, encampments are inhumane, there has to be another way,’” Lewis said, referencing his recent Seattle Times editorial that, broadly, attempted to portray Lewis as having come out in favor of more direct homeless encampment removal, as an important predicate for facilitating movement into housing transition options, after reviewing crime statistics related to encampments. Lewis denied that with Rantz, saying “I wouldn’t characterize myself as being in favor of sweeps, necessarily.”

Lewis instead highlights the benefits of transitional housing options such as tiny homes when compared with violent crime statistics on Seattle encampments.

“We have these things that we know work, we know are desirable, and we know are, frankly, cheaper than all of the ancillary frustrations that come with encampments.”

“You can’t put a price, frankly, on the peace of mind of having a community that can go out and participate in volunteering and managing their neighborhood tiny house village versus having an encampment, which poses public issues for the community. It’s not as easy to say that we’re being a humane city.”

Listen to Andrew Lewis’ entire interview with KTTH’s Jason Rantz here: 

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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‘Encampments pose public safety issues:’ progressive Seattle councilmember changes tune