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City of Seattle

November 8, 5:20 PM click here to comment > 11

Considering Our Options for a City-Sanctioned Homeless Encampment

In mid-August, I convened a citizen review panel to make recommendations to the City about our approach to homeless encampments. Experience tells us getting someone housed is the fastest and most effective way for a person to become self-sufficient. Unfortunately, we have not been able to keep up with the demand. Since the beginning of our participation in the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness, Seattle has provided funding to produce 1,601 units of housing for formerly homeless adults, families and youth. These units have been realized through a combination of acquisition and rehabilitation of existing buildings and new construction. Additionally, Seattle has secured operating and rental subsidies in existing housing to support another 967 units for formerly homeless adults, families and youth. Similar efforts elsewhere in King County have produced 464 units and secured operating and rental subsidies for another 1,117 units.

But despite that great progress, we still lack sufficient resources and facilities to meet the considerable needs of the unsheltered. In the most recent count, we found nearly 2,000 people on the streets between 2 and 5 a.m. Waiting lists for housing are long, and shelters can pose serious challenges to people trying to hold down a job or in need of a safe place to spend the day.

For more than a generation, the distribution of wealth and incomes among Americans has become increasingly unequal, and too many people are left behind by an economy that seems at times to have been designed to ignore them. We face a prolonged and severe economic downturn — the worst since the Great Depression. The current recession has cost many people their jobs, and, as a result, a place to live. On top of that, we’re expecting really bad weather this winter — so we’re truly facing an emergency here.

In late October, the panel made several recommendations, including one that is not without controversy: Seattle should put a permanent homeless encampment on City land.

I was intrigued by this suggestion, so we provided the panelists with a list of seven potential sites for a City-sanctioned homeless encampment of up to 100 to 150 people. City staff developed the list based on the size and uses of land owned by the city. A suitable site should accommodate on-site services geared toward moving residents to self-sufficiency.

A different opportunity has now presented itself that I believe is the most viable: the former Sunny Jim peanut butter factory, located in the SODO district at Airport Way South and South Snoqualmie Street. The City’s traffic signal and traffic sign shop occupies the south end of the site. The north end is now open because the building that housed the old peanut butter factory was destroyed by a fire a couple of months ago. The site will be cleared and graded flat, offering sufficient space to support an encampment and services for residents. We would seek a nonprofit or other organization to manage the encampment, providing services to residents and data to the City.

Creating a City-sanctioned homeless encampment won’t solve our problem. And it’s definitely a complicated undertaking. What’s more, when you consider the enormity of the problem, it’s just a small step. But it’s a step worth exploring.

I can’t say we’ll have all the pieces in place to open a homeless encampment at the SODO site by next month. But we are pushing as hard as we can. There are still hurdles to overcome but I am convinced this one small step will help our community respond to the crisis at hand.

In the meantime, I hope that you can join us at a community meeting in SODO before Thanksgiving. When we have a date and venue to announce for that meeting, we will do so on this blog.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn


Comment from vanderleun
Time November 8, 2010 at 11:49 pm

“Creating a City-sanctioned homeless encampment won’t solve our problem”

You got that right. It will magnify and institutionalize it. And then the taxpayers will pay more and more for it every year.


Comment from Angela Walls
Time November 9, 2010 at 7:24 am

Don’t kid yourself – helping in the long term? B.S.! That camp will never leave that site and you will never be successful in getting money to give more permanent housing to these people. Where is it going to come from? Isn’t the city already short of funding for a myriad of essentials? Approve more levies for more property tax to pay for it? Don’t bet on it any time soon. Thanks for parking them close to my neighborhood —FOR YEARS! What nothing in your neighborhood was available, or did you even look?

Comment from John P
Time November 9, 2010 at 9:39 am

I live in Georgetown. I am not afraid of people who have no shelter. I am also not afraid of being able to go to someone like a non profit to deal with issues as they come up, and have an actual face to face conversation about it, like I would any other neighbor. I also pay taxes and am employed. I refuse to be cynical about addressing issues of poverty. Thank you Mayor.

Comment from Laura
Time November 9, 2010 at 9:57 am

I think the interbay site was better. is there bus service right there next to the SODO site?

Comment from patty
Time November 9, 2010 at 10:45 am

I’d be interested to hear why you think this is the “most viable” as compared to the other 6 or 7 sites you considered?

This site in SODO has VERY minimal bus service, no grocery store nearby, no other human services within walking distance, and is located next to the highway and active train tracks.

Could you please elaborate, mayor? What are the livability conditions your panel considered?

Comment from Clint
Time November 9, 2010 at 2:52 pm

If this is such a great idea, why not put the site within a mile of your neighborhood?

Comment from beaconhillresident
Time November 9, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I live next door to ‘The Jungle’ and have spoken to many of the people who go in and out of there every day. People frequent it for drug deals. Many people have been killed there. This has been a problematic area for years. I think it’s a horrible idea to put a homeless encampment near such a dangerous area where crime is rampant.
In addition, the comments of the others are right in that there aren’t many amenities around. I have to go pretty far to get to my grocery store too.

Comment from Flush twice,long way to Georgetown
Time November 9, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Of the seven potential places for a homeless camp, Sunny Jims is a complete joke: no grocery store, the location is the entrance of the”jungle”, and there are families living in a neighborhood called Georgetown. You should seriously reevaluate this. How about the Interbay proposal ? After all,they have a QFC or is that to close to where you live?

Comment from Sharon Maeda
Time November 10, 2010 at 9:48 am

I’ve visited Portland’s Dignity Village and its a wonderful way to empower homeless people to create their own community, complete with their own governance structure, etc……It too is not in a totally convenient location, but its amazing how much they have become a part of Portland and the larger community is engaged; visitors are invited to stay for dinner, etc…..and help in the garden where they grow their own veggies, etc…..I’ve always wondered why Seattle could never find a site to do a similar project. NIMBYs are in every neighborhood, but this seems like a win-win situation.

Comment from Sherri
Time November 11, 2010 at 10:18 am

Why not partner with (or create) a non-profit organization to purchase the land from the city at a reasonable price and then have that non-profit run the encampment? No liability to the city, the city actually makes a little money, and no one has to worry about more taxes.

Seems to me that most people are happy to give their money to a lean & mean non-profit organization even when the are loathe to have that same amount of money (or even less) taken by the government in the form of taxes.

Comment from Kathy
Time February 8, 2011 at 2:38 am

Congratulations to the city of Seattle. Remember the song ” There but for fortune go you or I” It should be mandated for every city with a homeless population, so that desperate people do not all flock to your fair city.