Many constituents have asked where we are in the process of addressing Seattle’s homelessness crisis. The proposal of CB 118794 last fall shined a spotlight on areas where the city needed to step up. While that piece of legislation did not move forward, I am glad that it ultimately inspired the council and the executive to increase investments in short-term support to people living without homes while longer-term strategies, like Pathways Home, are established. In the months that have followed, there has been quite a bit of work done to address the homelessness crisis and in this blog post I want to:
- Address two common concerns;
- Report on the status of new and increased investments to support our homeless neighbors;
- Share new draft city rules regarding the removal of encampments and invite you to share your feedback;
- And provide resources for you to take action and help us solve this crisis.
Two concerns to address:
First, some constituents have let me know that police officers have received ‘stand down’ orders from city council when it comes to calls concerning homeless encampments. While it’s clear that when our encampment removal policies lack clarity, confusion amidst departments results, but when it comes to criminal activity, there is no confusion with SPD in regards to enforcing the law.
The city council does not dictate how the Seattle Police Department enforces city laws; officers investigate reports of criminal behavior and take appropriate enforcement action, regardless of the housing status of those involved. Chief Steve Wilske, who commands the Patrol Operations Bureau, is the only person who gives commands to SPD patrol officers and he has never given orders to not enforce the law. Please read this SPD blotter post for more information.
And second, my office receives many calls from constituents frustrated by the trash accumulation on freeway on and off ramps. While I commend the very responsive work of SPU’s illegal dumping team, they do not have the jurisdiction to clean up WDOT owned land. The city is in the process of working out a memorandum of understanding with the state, but the trash accumulation happening now is simply unacceptable.
I encourage you to contact members of Washington State’s transportation committee and let them know how you feel about waste accumulation on WSDOT property.
Bridging the Gap Status Update:
In October 2016, the Mayor announced the Bridging the Gap to Pathways Home plan, outlining investments in short-term support to people living without homes while longer-term strategies to address our homelessness crisis are addressed through longer term solutions. Below are a few pilot programs I’d like to highlight (for a full report, feel free to watch this Human Services & Public Health committee meeting, starting at 27:11):
Encampment Trash Pilots
Goal: Consistent, safe removal of trash located near unsanctioned homeless encampments without disrupting lives of encampment residents by mistaking personal items for trash. SPU helps people living unsheltered better manage their own trash by providing specific encampment sites either scheduled or on-call pick-up of their trash.
Current status: SPU works with city departments and external contractors to provide scheduled and on-call trash pick-up at specified locations throughout the city. Currently, scheduled pick-ups occur at unsanctioned sites at the Ballard Locks, 13th and Nickerson, and 4814 15th Ave NW. The Myers Way site that was previously collected from has moved to regular garbage collection as a sanctioned encampment.
Business Improvement Agreements & Litter Abatement Pilots
Goal: SPU works with neighborhood Business Improvement Areas to support local Clean City efforts to address graffiti and litter.
In 2016, SPU conducted Litter Abatement Pilots in three communities: Little Saigon, Ballard, and Chinatown/International District (CHID) to determine the best way to resolve litter issues. The Pilots delivered litter services, pressure washing, and other as needed service. Desired outcomes included cleaner neighborhoods, satisfied communities, along with viable and sustainable litter abatement programs and services.
Current status: SPU’s first phase of the Litter Abatement Pilots serviced Little Saigon, CHID, and Ballard for six months in 2016. Community partners have taken over services in these areas as of February 1, 2017, and intend to access Office of Economic Development grants to fund their efforts. SPU is now identifying three new locations for the pilot, using the Race and Social Justice Initiative tool kit. SPU aims to settle on locations by the end of March, and start serving the new areas in the second quarter.
Goal: SPU responds to complaints concerning sharps in the public right-of-way made via the Illegal Dumping Hotline, “Find It, Fix It” Mobile App, or on-line Website report, within 24 hours from the time of receiving the complaint.
Current status: SPU has successfully placed 6 large sharp boxes in 2016, and responded to sharps complaints within 24 hours (apart from complaints received Friday after 5pm – Saturday 10 am, and holidays). Since its inception in August 2016, this program resulted in over 1,100 sharps having been collected in response to over 165 complaints through the end of 2016.
New draft city rules:
Since 2008, the City has had specific rules for the removal of encampments that balance providing services and alternatives to people living in encampments while addressing public health and safety concerns.
The purpose of these rules is to streamline procedures for removal across departments that do not have their own protocols set in place. With the many different city departments playing roles at various stages of an encampment removal, these rules are complicated – so complicated that confusion and inconsistent application often result. I strongly believe that because the subject of these rules are the shelters and possessions of homeless individuals, achieving a higher degree of clarity and consistency for our department protocols will benefit everyone involved.
Recognizing this need for increased clarity among departments, the Task Force on Unsanctioned Encampment Cleanup Protocols convened throughout 2016 and made recommendations on changing the encampment removal rules. The new draft rules can be found here, but to summarize, compared to the existing rules, the new rules:
- Identify specific criteria for prioritizing the removal of encampments;
- Require the offer of a shelter alternative in order to remove many encampments;
- Require the City to deliver personal property it stores from encampments to their owners;
- And streamline the process for removing encampments that obstruct the intended use of public facilities like sidewalks and parks.
The City wants to know what you think about these changes and will be accepting public comment on the proposed rules through Wednesday, Feb. 15. I encourage you to send your feedback:
||City of Seattle
Department of Finance and Administrative Services
Attention: Frances Samaniego
P.O. Box 94689
Seattle, WA 98124-4689
Resources for you:
If you see trash accumulation on city owned public property, use the Find It, Fix It app or call 206.684.7587. This geo-locates the trash accumulation in question and adds it to the queue of areas for SPU to address. I’d encourage you to report trash/illegal dumping as you see it, and to encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same. For more information, visit:
If you come across dangerous litter, like needles, please call the needle hotline at 206.684.7587 and SPU will ensure pick-up within 24 hours.
With each of these channels of feedback, data accumulated helps SPU and FAS to prioritize areas that get an influx of complaints. When patterns like these are made clear, it’s easier for our departments to ensure these areas get more regular attention.
Lastly, I know that many of you are active volunteers in our community, and for that, I thank you. But if this has inspired you to take action and you happen to be looking for an organization with whom to volunteer, here are a few of my personal favorites:
U District Foodbank