17-hour rally at Seattle City Hall wants to ‘stop the sweeps'

by: KIRO 7 News Staff Updated:

A rally – organized in part by socialist Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant – plans to demonstrate for 17 hours against homeless camp sweeps in Seattle. 

It comes on the two-year anniversary of when former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared homelessness a civil state of emergency. 

The rally started at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at a public hearing. An overnight "solidarity camp out“ follows in front of Seattle City Hall. 

They were supposed to be moved out by midnight, but now their deadline is 6 a.m. Thursday.

How sweeps work in Seattle

The city launched a Navigation Team earlier this year. 

Seattle's Navigation Team comprises eight specially trained SPD officers, one SPD sergeant and seven outreach workers who work together in the field to offer individualized services and alternative living spaces to homeless individuals, according human services department staff.

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Camps are prioritized for removal depending on if they are a hazard. According to the city, a camp can be considered as a hazard if it's in a certain proximity of a highway, there's criminal or violent behavior, or waste isn't managed. 

Nearly 400 camps are unsanctioned in the Seattle. The navigation team has cleaned up 143 camps over the past eight months, though many of those camps quickly returned. Removal information is posted by date here.

Over the years, Seattle has added more and more homeless programs – and more funding – to help combat an issue that is now considered by the city to be a crisis. The problem has only worsened. 

Why people are protesting 

Activists and some leaders believe that sweeping homeless camps is inhumane and an ineffective strategy. They want the city to provide better housing solutions.

Sawant said during a committee meeting in October that she wants to keep city workers from sweeping unauthorized homeless camps. Sawant also proposed funds for sanitation, portable toilets, and trash removal for unauthorized camps. 

KIRO 7 News attended a committee meeting, where the 2018 budget is adding $3.4 million to support the cross-department Homelessness Emergency Response Program. The bar on homeless camp sweeps would happen temporarily as part of the budget. It’s a proviso that would be lifted after the legislation guarantees “human rights of unauthorized encampment inhabitants.”  

Sawant and nearly a dozen activist groups and unions are behind organizing the “Stop the Sweeps” event this week. 

According to Wednesday’s event Facebook page, demonstrators want to tax big businesses to build housing and fund services. Recently, councilmember Mike O’Brien proposed a business tax that would require an annual fee of $100 an employee.  

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