If you recall from an earlier post, on July 13, Mayor Murray announced that the Myers Way property will be retained and designated for open space and/or recreation purposes. This is one of the largest pieces of undeveloped City-owned land and is adjacent to the White Center border. Seattle Parks and Recreation does not currently have resources needed to immediately repurpose the site, but the Department will retain the property as one of its “land banked” sites. A land banked site means the land will be held in its current undeveloped condition until resources are identified to commence a community planning effort to design the park. Holding such properties ensures that valuable open space is not lost, even if resources for repurposing the property are not immediately available.
Over the last week, I have received numerous emails from constituents concerned about the people living in an unauthorized encampment on this property. I also visited Arrowhead Village last week, near the Myers Way property and learned that they would like the City to provide garbage services to the site. On any given night in Seattle, 2,813 are living unsheltered in our community. Since the beginning of the State of Emergency, approximately 522 sites have been identified through the city’s Customer Service Bureau.
Last year, the Council passed legislation to authorize 3 sanctioned encampments. These are the only city-sanctioned encampments. The locations are: The Ballard Encampment at 2826 NW Market Street with 21 residents; The Interbay Encampment at 3234 17th Avenue W., with 63 residents; and Othello Village* at 7544 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., with 47 residents. The sanctioned encampments have served 178 individuals. According to the Low Income Housing Institute’s, Authorized Encampments Moving Residents into Housing and Jobs – From October 1, 2015 to June 28, 2016:
- 57 encampment residents moved to housing
- 30 encampment residents moved into other shelter
- 40 encampment residents found employment
- 3 encampment residents were reunited with relatives
Other encampments we may see throughout the City are unsanctioned by the City. Under current administrative protocols, before the City takes action to remove an unauthorized encampment, the City must provide 72 hours’ notice and outreach to the campers to connect them with needed services and shelter. Outreach providers seek to establish relationships with the people living in unsanctioned encampments and referrals for services such as housing, case management, substance abuse, and mental health assistance, plus provide immediate basic needs such as food, water, clothes. They have some access to flexible funds to provide one time financial assistance such as rent assistance, travel assistance to unite with a support system outside Seattle, and hotel/motel vouchers. Between Feb – June 2016, 679 outreach visits were made resulting in 1,881 and 277 offers of shelter.
Over the months that I have been on the City Council there has been much discussion of how the City should work with people living in encampments. We are a City with very long lines for shelter and years’ long waiting lists for affordable housing and rent assistance. Whether caused by a lack of access to housing or a reluctance to accept help when available, sometime it takes time for outreach workers to help campers. As part of these discussions I have urged the Executive not only to have its work guided by established public health and safety prioritization criteria, but I’ve asked whether outreach workers have the ability to ask for more time if – in their estimation – more time would help get campers access to services. I have been assured that the Executive’s administrative protocols do allow for a “go slow” approach in these instances. As it relates specifically to the Myers Way properties, I have told the Executive that:
- I understand that complaints have been made about the encampment and that this obligates the City to accept those complaints;
- As it relates to acting on these complaints, I believe health and safety prioritization criteria should be used in determining when to schedule action on this encampment;
- I want a report on the outreach and services being provided to the campers with assurances that should outreach workers find that more time will result in better outcomes for the campers that more time will be given; and
- I’d like the City, in the interim, to provide garbage services for the campers, consistent with the encampment garbage removal project I proposed in March.
The current City process to complain about encampments that are unsanctioned begins with filing a complaint by calling 206-684-2489 or (TTY) 7-1-1 or via the Customer Service Bureau (CSB) Web Form at www.seattle.gov/customerservice/. CSB researches property ownership and determines which department is responsible for the property.
When property ownership is determined, CSB sends a report to the Seattle Police Department, the responsible department, and the Human Services Department for review and inspection. HSD administration then notifies the appropriate representative of the responsible department to clean-up.
Once the complaint is made, it is current city policy to prioritize removal of encampments according to the following criteria:
- Physical hazards to those at the site or in the community (e.g. on dangerous freeway overhangs, blocking sidewalks);
- Areas with significant public safety issues (e.g. reported crimes); and
- Areas with significant public health concerns (e.g. large accumulations of debris and biohazards).
These three factors are then balanced with the availability of resources; encampments that do not meet these criteria are not prioritized for removal.