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Homeless advocates pushing for slowdown of encampment sweeps

SEATTLE — A big battle is brewing in Seattle over the city’s homeless encampment sweeps.  Advocates argue that Mayor Ed Murray’s method needs to slow down and become much more humane.

“We have been seeing the same ineffective approach that is ultimately more destructive than it is helpful,” said Tim Harris, founder of Real Change.

Harris is part of a coalition, including the ACLU, that is pushing for new protocols that would severely limit how much the city can do to force the homeless to leave encampments.

“The mayor’s office has not been open to dialogue about this,” Harris said.  “Their perspective has been is that we’re going to do it our way and we’re not really interested in your opinion on this.  And that’s not flying anymore.”

These sweeps have definitely increased in recent years.  Partly because the problem is getting worse, and partly because the pressure is so much greater after high-profile murders in the Jungle earlier this year.

Here are the main elements of the sweep protocols being pushed by advocates:

  • Require 30-day notice before cleaning up encampments (vs. the current city policy of 72 hours)
  • Offer housing or alternative location
  • Provide moving assistance for the homeless and their belongings.
  • Offer sanitation and garbage services at current encampments
  • $250 per person violation

The coalition agrees that in the case of a public safety or public health emergency, the city could sweep with no more than 48 hours notice.

The mayor’s office is pushing back at this new approach, arguing that it would just make the problem worse.  His office released a statement signed by Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and other department heads that reads, in part:

“The practical effect of this proposed ordinance would be to fully open parks land to camping … .Every dollar spent on supporting outdoor living is a dollar not spent on moving someone into housing.”

Some members of the City Council plan on sponsoring the legislation. The council will begin debating the proposal next week.