Seattle activists call for a ban on encampment removals during winter, cite inadequate services

By KOMO News

By August 2, 2023

SEATTLE — A new report shows the number of homeless people accepting offers for shelter in Seattle is critically low. Still, activists are calling on city leaders to put a stop to removing homeless encampments in certain situations.

The “Services Not Sweeps Coalitions” in a news release argued removing encampments is ineffective because it only moves people out of sight, not always out of homelessness. They’re calling on the city to pass legislation banning encampment removals in winter, other severe weather, and improve its winter outreach services.

It would be modeled on the winter eviction ban passed before the pandemic. Activists argue they’re trying to limit people’s exposure to extreme heat, cold and heavy smoke to reduce their risk for heat stroke, hypothermia, overdose and death, the release stated.

The group plastered its message Wednesday from the steps of city hall to council chambers. They’re urging council members to ban homeless encampment removals in times of extreme cold, heat, or wildfires and instead invest in more winter outreach and year-round services leading to permanent housing.

“We think it’s a really bad policy. It hurts the efforts of outreach workers who are trying to get folks inside,” coalition organizer Jay Jones stated.

This comes as the city responds to clear dangerous encampments, like the one near Harborview that exploded last month, reportedly due to a bombing connected to control of the drug trade.

“I think that everyone should be provided supportive services. I think we’re in the middle of a drug epidemic,” Jones added.

The coalition believes services and more shelter options are critically needed.

The Unified Care Team that provides outreach services is reporting that over three months, nearly 700 people declined offers for congregate shelters. That’s nearly 60% of people who declined the help. The most common reason was that about 16% of people wanted to move into their own space, like a tiny home, but openings are limited.

“The [King County Regional Homelessness Authority] and the city aren’t putting the funds there, not raising wages for service providers,” Jones added.

In response, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, in an emailed statement, said it’s focusing on helping people move indoors, and on a pathway to recovery and permanent housing as they’re seeing a 21% increase in accepted referrals to shelter.

“While over 53,000 experience homelessness in King County over the course of a year, there are just 5,300 shelter beds for all of King County, and most of those spots are full. The system does not currently have the infrastructure or resources to meet the need,” added Anne Martens with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. “In order to open any new shelter, the steps are (1) securing funding, (2) securing a building or site location with community support, (3) competitive bidding for a service provider to staff and manage the location so that safety and services are ensured, and (3) ongoing funding for staffing and operations.”

This piece was republished from KOMO News.

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