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.
Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn