Update on City Parks and Homeless Living

If you are wondering how the Friday meeting of the City Council on the issue of homelessness went, look no further than the account of the 4-hour meeting from Seattle City Council Insight. As relates to schools and playfields (bold mine:)
O’Brien also asked whether the 2100 people living outside in tents (another 900 live in vehicles) will all have places to be — whether the city has done the math to ensure that after prohibiting camping in parks, sidewalks and school property, they have confirmed that there will be enough space. 

For the problematic ones, such as one on a playfield, he said that the city needed to move quickly to remove them, but for the rest there would still be robust notice, outreach, and storage of belongings. 
CM O'Brien on park lands:
O’Brien gave a little speech about his perspective on park lands. He has heard Burgess and others assert that park lands are held in the public trust for an intended purpose and they should stay true to that purpose. But O’Brien challenged that notion, since the city has no land held in public trust to help the homeless. He believes that homeless people have both a human right and a constitutional right to sleep somewhere, and for him that is in direct conflict with holding lands in public trust for restricted purposes.
On the two bills (O'Brien's and Bagshaw's):
The heart of the matter is really the philosophical difference in approach between the two bills: O’Brien’s version attempts to ensure that there is enough space for 3000 unsheltered people to be somewhere they aren’t harassed, and Bagshaw’s is much more aggressive about quickly establishing other sanctioned locations as a justification for much tighter restrictions on where unsanctioned encampments are tolerated. That contrast was never addressed. We know that Sawant supports O’Brien’s version, and Burgess supports Bagshaw’s. But there was no opportunity for any of the other Council members to meaningfully wade into that discussion, let alone inform the public as to where they stand.  

Council member O’Brien keeps asking a key question that no one is willing to answer: how much space do we need for 2100 homeless people living unsheltered in our city? No one wants them camping outside, but that is our city’s reality today and it will not change overnight. Putting restrictions on the places where they can camp doesn’t reduce the number of people sleeping outside. And if the restrictions are so tight that the remaining space isn’t enough for 2100 people, then all we’ve done is guarantee that people will be in problematic places. Someone in city government needs to sit down, draw the maps, and do the math.
On why we need parks and how that runs into the issue of homeless people:
There is a flip side to O’Brien’s argument: in a sense, this debate has become a referendum on what our parks are for. One public commenter this morning contended that the parks are important for everyone’s sanity when 650,000 people live together in an urban environment.  

Many others made similar points, pointing to other aspects of how the parks fit into our urban life. There are preschools sited in city parks; there are community centers. There is plenty of wildlife that needs to be protected and conserved. All of these are genuine concerns; city parks fulfill an important and multi-faceted role in our urban environment. Still, none of that is an answer to O’Brien’s fundamental question: where do we find space for the 2100 people who are living unsheltered in our city tonight?
In my mind, I just question people living outside when at least half the year, it's damp.  Are there no empty warehouses the City could lease? No space at Magnuson?  I'd like to think this has been considered and discussed but I haven't seen that discussion published.

I do think it important to send in more e-mails to the City Council and the Mayor, no matter where you stand.
Mayor Edward Murray ed.murray@seattle.gov
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov
Councilmember Tim Burgess tim.burgess@seattle.gov
Councilmember M. Lorena Gonzalez lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov
Councilmember Bruce Harrell bruce.harrell@seattle.gov
Councilmember Lisa Herbold lisa.herbold@seattle.gov
Councilmember Rob Johnson rob.johnson@seattle.gov
Councilmember Debora Juarez debora.juarez@seattle.gov
Councilmember Mike O’Brien mike.obrien@seattle.gov
Councilmember Kshama Sawant kshama.sawant@seattle.gov


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the links Melissa. I wrote to everyone expressing the hopes that they can find solutions to house people indoors instead of city parks or streets.

Last night I attended a fundraiser for the Queen Anne Helpline. The mayor gave a good speech praising the organization but the most affecting words came from a single mother with a son at Ballard High School. She and her son had been in and out of homelessness, even though she had worked hard her whole life. She mentioned that school fees for activities often conflicted with paying rent or food. Her vulnerable son had found sports and choir to be the elements of school that kept him engaged. She couldn’t afford them.

This is the result of the McCleary delays. People like this mother have to make impossible choices because our leaders cannot fully fund education.

S parent

Whitesail said…
The DESC supported housing "Cottage Grove Commons" building on Delridge in West Seattle cost $14 million to build and consists of 66 apartments to house the formerly homeless/mentally ill/substance abusing population. Do the math, that is a $212,000 apartment per individual. Not to mention the free on site caseworkers, free healthcare, free disability income, free food assistance, free substance abuse counseling, etc etc etc all paid for by taxpayers. What if Council member O'Brien snapped his fingers and magically there appeared half a BILLION dollars to immediately provide an individual apartment for each of the 3000 homeless in Seattle. What next? Problem solved? NO! The next day, another 3,000 or MORE homeless pour in to the city, camping, trashing and shooting up in Lincoln, Discovery, Woodland, Greenlake etc parks as he states is their constitutional right, while waiting for their own $200,000 free apartment to be built. Where does it end? I support and volunteer with organizations moving people out of homelessness but the proposals being set forth by councilmemembers O'Brien, Sawant, Herbold are sheer madness. How many hard working young and not-so-young people do you know who are living with one, two, three, more housemates in Seattle, scraping to afford rent and make ends meet or else moving to a more affordable community not waiting in line for their free $200,000 condo. Tiered solutions for homeless populations are necessary taking into account individuals willingness and capabilities to take some modicum of personal responsibility for their outcomes. I could go on and will go on but realize this is not the forum to do so. Melissa, Could you please share your post in its entirety with the publishers of the West Seattle Blog or allow me to repost in its entirety.
While I do not always agree with your positions on public education, I so greatly admire your tenacious efforts to hold our publicly elected "leaders" to standards of accountability and transparency. Thank you.
Whitesail said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
I have heard Seattle called "Freeatle" because Seattle so readily supplies free services to the poor snd homeless. The result? More people come here because of the social services we generously provide. So, CM O'Brien may think it is only 2100 people now, but that number will surely increase under his plans. -NP
Whitesail, you are welcome to share my post wherever you would like. I appreciate your honesty and kindness.
dan dempsey said…
On the Freestyle comment.
Is this a problem each city needs to solve, often at the expense of many of the city's residents? ... More services for homeless brings more homeless.

A state sponsored solution might be explored.

When I was in SoCal the homeless shuttled back and forth between Santa Monica and LA , when LA made living on the sidewalks more difficult.

In the fall, I have met PNW homeless who hitchhike to SoCal and then return to PNW for the summer.

In the 1920s and 1930s there was a poor farm in Summer WA, where many poor worked and lived until they could find employment elsewhere.

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
There is a large space directly across from City Hall where a tent city could be located. Why aren't they looking at that space? They could also put tiny houses there or refurbished shipping containers.


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