Seattle mayor, City Council agree on homeless encampment sweeps

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SEATTLE -- After weeks of being at odds, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and City Council members are finally in agreement about how to clean up 'The Jungle' homeless encampment under Interstate 5.

Lawmakers pushed back at the mayor’s recent sweep, arguing that it was too quick and too harsh. This new, more compassionate approach is expected to be a model for how other unauthorized encampments around city are cleaned up.

“I feel much better about this new thing happening than I did two weeks ago,” said City Council member Mike O’Brien.

For years, Seattle has had a pretty haphazard, mostly reactive approach to sweeping homeless encampments.  They happened sometimes, in some areas, with no consistent policy.  But because of the overwhelming problems with the Jungle, the city has now adopted, for the first time, clear guidelines for homeless sweeps.  They were written specifically for the Jungle, but they are likely to become the new standard for other parts of town where encampments are located, including West Seattle, Ballard and Magnolia.

Here are main elements of the new approach:

  • The city will provide trash bags and needle containers to campers;
  • Everyone will be offered shelter and services from an established human services provider;
  • Finally -- and this is a big change -- lawmakers will be given prior notice before the mayor’s office forcibly removes a camper who refuses to leave.

“The Council has to be given at least three business days before they’re going to relocate anyone so we can review and say what opportunities did these people have,” said O’Brien.

As one of the leaders of this new approach, O’Brien acknowledges that one result of these new guidelines is actually a willingness to allow camping in some parts of town.

“To date, we’ve been mostly saying you can’t be here, you can’t be there,” said O’Brien.  “We need to get a little more into the business of saying you can be in these places, we encourage you to be there while we look for housing that’s more permanent.”