Seattle council member: Mayor is playing politics with homeless

Oct 14, 2016, 10:14 AM | Updated: 2:30 pm
Seattle Council Member Mike O'Brien. (Seattle Channel)
(Seattle Channel)

A Seattle council member accused the mayor’s office of playing politics with the homeless.

“I need to understand who released this and why,” Council member Mike O’Brien said to representatives from the mayor’s office at a council committee meeting Friday. “When was it decided to play politics with this, rather than face the human crisis out there?”

Mayor Murray plans for four new tent cities in Seattle

What O’Brien was referring to was a map of Seattle illustrating all the green spaces and parks in the city that could potentially be considered suitable for homeless camping. What is “unsuitable” is currently up for debate among the council — which is why parks, sidewalks, etc. have been discussed.

“This map, my understanding is, it was released by the mayor’s office highlighting areas, and this is not what we have been talking about,” O’Brien said holding up the map.

The council is considering legislation that would define where homeless camping would be allowed on public property and how to move people out of unsuitable areas.

Representatives from the mayor’s office were quick to respond that the mayor is working at the table with the council on the issue in good faith, but that the office will talk to concerned citizens. It was among one of those discussions that the map was likely presented.

“We know it’s misleading,” O’Brien continued about the map. “I don’t know if I’m working with someone in good faith or not.”

Council member Kshama Sawant backed up her colleague.

“Spreading misinformation is not the way you help the situation,” she told the mayor’s office representatives. “My office has received hundreds of phone calls from well-meaning people who have supported my office on so many other things — they were panicking because of all this misinformation.”

The mayor’s office maintained that no one was playing politics. And that it would continue to talk with constituents with concerns.

Homeless camping discussion

The meeting was meant to be a conversation between council members who are working through their own homeless camping legislation, and the mayors office. Mayor Murray introduced additional plans aimed at addressing homeless camping on Thursday night.

Council members each offered their thoughts on how the city is, and should be, dealing with homeless camping.

Tim Burgess

My approach to this issue is to serve all of the people of Seattle. All of us up here, the council, the mayor’s team, probably 99 percent of the people in Seattle believe that individuals in homeless environments are valued, they have worth, they are our neighbors and we want to help them.

But I also don’t think that we have to wait for the absolute perfect solution before we take steps to remedy some of the problems we face. I believe we should not proactively authorize camping in our parks and on our sidewalks. Those are things that are in trust for all the people of Seattle and that would violate that trust.

There’s a lot of trash and garbage in our city where there are no longer campers present. And I would urge the mayor to use his emergency power to clean that up immediately.

Some in our neighborhoods have used this as an occasion to denigrate the homeless in our city. That is not helpful to anybody. What we are trying to do … is to figure out how to balance our compassionate response and make that as effective as we can, while also meeting public health and safety obligations. It’s not one or the other – it’s both.

Kshama Sawant argued that the issue of trash and human waste should not conflate the issue of people camping.

What happens to these human beings after you conduct a sweep? Your responsibility as city officials doesn’t end there. They are human beings, and they have a constitutional right to exist somewhere. So if, at this moment, we don’t have the resources to give them a real option away from being outside, they are going to be in the East Duwamish Greenbelt or elsewhere.

The city can deal with trash. The city can invest in resources for the trash.


What does an offer of suitable housing look like? We spent a lot of time on the ordinance and working on getting that definition right. It’s important. When do we sweep people when we’ve offered housing? What I’ve seen in the greenbelt, the Jungle, a fraction of people accepted shelter, but a vast majority didn’t. I think the lesson is — was that a suitable offer?

Not a city official, but Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant also attended the meeting and made a public comment, continuing his lack of support for the council’s homeless camping legislation. He argued that allowing tent encampments provided incentive for people to remain on the street and not seek assistance from family or services.

I am asking you to reconsider the legislation … You need to move toward zero tolerance for camping in a public space. Relegating people to the margins of community, by enabling them to live in tents is not compassionate, it’s cruel. It’s denying them the tools they need to become members of our communities.

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Seattle council member: Mayor is playing politics with homeless