Seattle’s proposed bill that may allow the homeless to set up shop on private property

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SEATTLE, WA – A piece of legislation is teed-up for discussion later in May that could potentially allow for Seattle’s homeless population to set up their tent nearly anywhere without being removed – including someone’s private property.

According to CB 119796:

“No funds shall be used to relocate or remove unsanctioned encampments of people experiencing homelessness unless at least one of the following conditions describes the encampment that would be subject to the relocation or removal.”

The listed reasons that a homeless encampment could be removed under this legislation would be if:

  • There’s a health risk akin to communicable diseases (like COVID-19)
  • There’s a present fire hazard
  • A tent is placed on a sidewalk with less than 4-feet available on the walkway
  • There’s an “immediate hazard” (tents erected on roads/highways, crosswalks, highway shoulders and off-ramps, and landslide prone areas)
  • If an encampment is located in a “children’s play area”
  • An encampment obstructs an entry or exit to a building

Of all the listed instances where the homeless can be removed from an area, nowhere does the proposed legislation state encampments located on “private property” can be lawfully disbanded.

Because of this, locals are concerned that this will allow for the homeless to set up shop nearly wherever they please.

One of these locals is James Wong, the CEO of Vibrant Cities.

It’s not that he’s specifically worried about the homeless people themselves, but rather the problems that plague homeless encampments. He noted that two encampments present in the Chinatown International District has been causing severe issues:

“We have a lot of low-income senior citizens in this neighborhood and they are worried to walk the streets.”

Based upon the verbiage of the proposal, Wong says this could lead to some intense consequences since there’s so much leniency that would be afforded to where encampments become established:

“It’s going to allow unauthorized encampments not only in the CID but it’s going to spread throughout the entire city of Seattle, any public park, any public area and even private property.”

Wong’s concerns aren’t unwarranted, as the proposed legislation is fairly clear on the if/when scenarios of when an encampment can be removed. If passed, Wong says that people should be prepared for a proverbial open-season on where the homeless so decide to reside:

“This legislation is the beginning of allowing any type of camping anywhere.”

Deputy Mayor Mike Fong is also concerned at what the council is considering with this proposal. On May 19th, Fong sent a letter to the council noting his concerns surrounding minimal exceptions relating to when a homeless encampment can be disbanded.

Fong’s synopsis of the language used in the bill wasn’t exactly kind:

“This bill is as poorly drafted and analyzed as I’ve ever seen and fails to recognize basic and legitimate operational, legal, and policy considerations, without any consultation with the impacted city departments.”

This “poorly drafted” bill, as Fong described it, was introduced by Seattle Council Member Tammy Morales and cosponsored by members Teresa Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant. While Morales and Mosqueda haven’t commented on the bill when asked about concerns, Sawant came to the defense of it.

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Sawant stated that the bill was a “temporary restriction of sweeps during the COVID emergency” which is supported by the bill’s language where it states that these measures will coincide with “the period of the civil emergency declared on March 3, 2020.”

While what Sawant noted in her statement was synonymous with the bill’s wording, her statement also revealed that the bill is also a direct response to what she coined as “inhumane and ineffective sweeps of homeless neighbors.”

Essentially, it seems she feels as though there shouldn’t be any disturbance of where the homeless decide to stake their claim. However, her statement provided didn’t address the recent issues that have been cropping up in certain encampments.

An encampment located on South Weller Street was the scene of a recent homicide, as police discovered the body of a woman who’d been shot in the chest. Authorities also say that there were three reports of shots fired, as well as reports of rapes and aggravated assaults stemming from the camp.

These are the scenarios that locals like Wong are worried about:

“When we know lawlessness is available and you can put up your tent everywhere guess what is going to happen they are going to put their tent everywhere.”

The bill is poised for further discussion by the committee on May 27th, with a final vote on the measure expected to take place on June 1st.

Hopefully, common sense will prevail in that final vote, or residents may have to play host to some unwanted guests.

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