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Seattle mayor wants to add four new homeless encampments

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.(Seattle Channel)

Mayor Ed Murray announced a series of new Seattle homeless initiatives Thursday evening, which includes opening four new city-authorized homeless tent encampments.

Murray is dedicating $1.2 million for the four new encampments. He is also adding $1 million to increase the number of safe locations for people living unsheltered, and storage for their belongings when encampments are cleared. He said that the city is looking into vacant city, county and state lands for the new authorized encampments.

“I personally have gone back and forth over the past two years over what the right approach is (to homelessness),” Murray said. “It is one of those areas where I get complimented or bashed.

“There are areas in this city where it is unacceptable to have people camp,” he added. “We want to find a way to get people places they can camp, but at the same time we can’t have people in our parks or on our sidewalks, or on school property or areas where they are at risk.”

Murray’s announcement follows the release of two substitute drafts on the proposed homeless camping legislation from council members Sally Bagshaw and Mike O’Brien. Each is attempting to define where homeless individuals can camp on public property. The two discussed their proposed bills with the media on Thursday before Murray made his own announcement.

Related: Council members introduce two Seattle homeless camping proposals

Murray’s statements Thursday night touched upon the Seattle homeless camping issue at the core of Bagshaw and O’Brien’s bills. The mayor said that people will be removed from places where they are at risk, or places that interfere with public use. He said the policy will be: people will be given 72 hours notice to move to of their camp while being offered a safer alternative — such as authorized encampments and shelters. If an alternative is not available, campers would not be displaced.

“If we cannot offer them a place to stay, we will not remove them,” he said. “We are not going to arrest people because they are sleeping on a sidewalk, we are going to move them.”

Murray’s new plan includes:

• Four new homeless tent encampments with low barriers to entry.
• Improved clarity of city operations with the homeless.
• Improved clarity of cleanups of encampments and notifications for cleanups.
• Improved property storage for personal belongings of homeless individuals from encampment cleanups.
• Increase safe alternative locations for people living outside.
• Grant access to homeless individuals to restroom and shower facilities at public pools and community centers free of charge.
• Double outreach by forming multi-disciplinary teams of police, outreach workers, and cleanup crews to contact homeless individuals.

Murray said that the two tent cities Seattle opened last year have been successful. He wants the new tent cities to pull in people who have avoided the first two.

“We are on track (toward long-term solutions),” Murray said. “In the short term, we are expanding a number of low-barrier places for people to be — encampments where drugs and alcohol or pets are not a barrier. That is not the long-term plan we are thinking of.”

Other barriers that the new tent cities will attempt to mitigate are curfews that people have to adhere to. Murray stressed that the tent cities are not Seattle’s solution to the homeless crisis, rather a patch until long-term plans are in place. But he also noted that the city will never solve the problem until it gets state and federal help.

“If we have an assumption that Seattle can solve this problem, we are stuck and nothing can change,” he said. “If we think we can stick here in a bubble and not have the state step up or the federal government step up, then we don’t understand the nature of the crisis … we are in a national epidemic.”

Seattle homeless and crime

Murray addressed the criminal aspect of the Seattle homeless issue that has not previously been spoken of so frankly.

“In RVs where there have been significant drug operations with significant drugs and cash in there,” Murray said, further noting that there will be an increased effort to charge crimes that happen in the homeless community. He pointed to a recent rape that occurred in the Jungle.

“The woman who was raped by another resident of the greenbelt area (the Jungle), she has filed a report, and that individual needs to be prosecuted,” he said.

Seattle homeless and clean up

Murray also announced that starting in November, the city will begin a syringe clean up program that will operate seven days a week.

Needles will be picked up within 24 hours of when they are reported to the city.

Also, 10 new needle disposal boxes — SHARP containers — will be placed across the city.

There will also be increased garbage pick-up around homeless encampments throughout the city.

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