Update on Homeless Encampments on School Property

City Councilmember Mike O'Brien put out a strongly worded statement about this legislation:
Let me correct some misinformation that has been circulating: I do not support a policy that allows camping on school grounds, sidewalks or maintained park spaces. I am in favor of revamping our protocols to clearly define unsafe and unsuitable areas, such as schools, sidewalks and maintained parks — and we should allow people to stay in areas that are not problematic while we work to get them housing and services as quickly as possible.

Unsafe and unsuitable areas should be defined with input from neighborhood residents and businesses. In coordination with the Pathways Home and other housing strategies ramping up, this policy would expire in two years. The legislation has evolved significantly from what was introduced.
 I read the revised ordinance legislation and it now clearly states:

“Public space” means any area within the City limits which is owned, leased, maintained, controlled, or managed by the City, and does not include Public Development Authorities, privately owned land, public schools and colleges, the University of Washington, the Port of Seattle, or entities formed under the authority of RCW 35.21.730, et seq., RCW 36.100 or RCW Ch.36.102.
However, to Councilmember O'Brien's statement about "maintained parks," the ordinance says this:

Unsafe location” means a public space that poses imminent danger of harm to individuals residing in that location or to the general public. The danger of harm must be created by the existence of the specific outdoor living space at that particular location and not generalized danger of harm common to all who are unsheltered. Unsafe locations include, but are not limited to, rights-of-way in industrial areas actively used for transporting people or goods and for providing ingress and egress to real property.

“Unsuitable location” means a public space that has a specific public use that is substantially impeded as a result of an outdoor living space in that location. Improved areas of City parks, including restored natural areas or natural areas actively undergoing restoration, and public sidewalks in front of houses and dwelling units are per se unsuitable. Sidewalks in commercial areas are prohibited to sitting and lying during certain hours under SMC 15.48.040.
What is the difference between "maintained parks" and "improved areas of City parks?"   I'll try to call his office and ask because that would seem to be the loophole that would allow people to camp in parks.  And not just the homeless.  I could see tourists thinking it was okay to camp, for free, in city parks.  After all, they are technically homeless in the city.

This is an important issue to schools because several schools bank up right to parks.  

I have a call into his office to clarify terms.  


Anonymous said…
Thank you for following up on this Melissa. The council's leaked map contradicts Mr. O'Brien's words. It appears that he/they believe that Woodland Park Zoo, Matthews Beach, Magnusson Park and Laurelhurst Park are fair game for squatting. He and the rest of the council have stated that they will vote this through regardless of their constituents' opposition. With this issue, the insistence of Mayor Murray to fund Safe Areas for drug addicts and the never-ending property tax increases, I am seriously considering moving to the Eastside.

-Despondent and Exhausted
Anonymous said…
And the homeless understand the nuances of the bill, correct?

Anonymous said…
I fear the council members think the public is up in arms because of the school grounds issue, and if we just understood, we'd all be in agreement with their plan. I find it completely dismissive of the many valid concerns, and I hope they are not chalking all the letters and petitions up to "some misinformation that has been circulating." I wrote them when this first came up, and got personal replies explaining how I had misunderstood them. Which I had not -- in fact none of my letters even mentioned schools at that time. I replied to each of them explaining that my position was never based on a misunderstanding and that it has not changed. I hope they hear from as many of us as possible.

city parent
Anonymous said…
Portland had issues with the homeless understanding where and where not and for how long they could camp. Rather than saying where they can't camp, they should clearly identify where they can camp and make those areas as such.

Watching said…
I would like to have the Department of Health weigh-in, as well.
This was discussed at noon on KUOW with Burgess and O'Brien and it was pointed out how badly Portland's program went (and was subsequently pulled.)
Watching said…
According to one map, there is a park across from North Beach elementary that would open for campers.

The two year sunset clause is beyond unacceptable.
Anonymous said…
Where are these maps people are referring to? Are there neighborhood-level maps we can see? Many thanks in advance for any links.
Anonymous said…
King5 first found the maps.
Anonymous said…
Hells bells. Suddenly realized that the city's "Homeless Czar" is none other than George Scarola, late of LEV. He was the legislative guy there.

Anonymous said…
The maps show camping as OK by Lowell Elementary and Miller Community Center on Capitol Hill. -NP
Lisa Herbold let people know she will not vote for either piece of legislation. She did a really good job in explaining her concerns and I am very happy to hear this.
Anonymous said…
Lisa didn't say she wouldn't vote for the legislation. She said she wouldn't vote tomorrow, and big whoop to that. It isn't up for a vote tomorrow. She says a lot but she doesn't change the essence that no one will be getting homeless extricated from problematic camps if the city doesn't deem the area an important place to remove them. As any parent who has had to clean filth and monitor safety for students knows, we citizens and city bureaucrats differ SUBSTANTIALLY in opinion of tolerance for camps near our children's schools and outdoor recreational spaces.

Further it took her weeks to respond to hundreds of requests for comment on the urgent issue and the legislation she herself sponsored.

"Very Upset"
Anonymous said…
Lisa Herbold never replied to my email. The only people who replied were Mike O'Brien, Sally Baghaw, and Tim Burgess. In general, this whole thing has been a debacle and I am disgusted with the Council for trying to slip one by the general public and catering to special interest groups (ACLU and CLS). We need to follow up and keep the pressure on - NP
Anonymous said…
The city and the Mayor are being disingenuous when they describe the homeless "epidemic" as a sudden crisis that requires emergency measures. The "crisis" correlates with the establishment of the policy of police tolerance toward opiate use in the streets. This policy has been shown to save lives. However, the fact that the city did not have a contingency plan for the influx of opiate users that inevitably occurred as Seattle became known as a safe place to shoot up shows an extreme lack of practical vision. Vancouver BC has not come up with a solution for this problem but they are treading water because the bulk of the users are restricted to one part of the city (eastside). In Seattle, in a shocking lack of practical forethought, the Mayor is proposing to spread the problem of street opiate use throughout the city - into schools, neighborhoods and businesses. Opiate users have been shown to do best when in close proximity to safe shooting galleries and support treatment services. Will these be established everywhere? Across from schools? Or would it not be more reasonable to set aside a large area downtown where services can be focused and homeless users directed to said area. Other neighborhoods, schools, sidewalks, parks - these should be off limits to homeless camping.


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