Advocates draft homeless ordinance to allow camping in public

by: Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest.com Updated:

A man lies in a tent with others camped nearby, under and near an overpass in Seattle, which has the third-highest number of homeless people in the U.S. (AP photo)

Since the City of Seattle is not drafting a homeless ordinance they want, advocates have decided to go around elected officials and write their own. Now they want the city to pass it.

The ordinance drafted by local homeless and legal advocates would essentially prohibit the City of Seattle from shutting down homeless encampments if they pose no harm. It would allow people to camp in public spaces throughout the city.

In a letter to the city, obtained by The Seattle Times, the ACLU and other homeless advocates submitted a call to action. They argue that the city’s policies for homeless issues and clearing out of homeless encampments is harmful and making the problems worse. Instead, they drafted their own homeless ordinance that they hope the city council will consider during upcoming budget discussions. They say their proposal “strikes a balance between the rights and needs of people sleeping outdoors and legitimate public health and safety concerns.” They also argue it “will lead to more effective and efficient use of public resources.”

ACLU of Washington considers legal action over Seattle’s Jungle

The letter is signed by representatives of the ACLU, Columbia Legal Services, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, the Public Defender Association, Seattle Community Law Association and Real Change.

Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the ALCU of Washington, told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz in May that her organization — along with homeless advocates —  preferred the city engage in policy changes for homelessness. But she also said that the group was considering legal action. This came amid the city’s attempts to deal with the Jungle and the encampments throughout it.

The recent letter continues that sentiment:

…the City must not pursue policies that harm people and make it more difficult to help them. The City must not continue policies which chase people from one place to another, without effectively answering the question: Where can people go?

A homeless ordinance

The homeless ordinance drafted by Columbia Legal Services has a few main points, but basically calls for the city to allow homeless encampments to remain in place if they are out of the way and pose no harm to the public or infrastructure.

In their letter, the group sums up their homeless ordinance as:

If people are living in a location that is neither unsafe nor unsuitable, and there are no hazardous or emergency situations, as defined in the ordinance, the city can offer services to individuals, including the encouragement to move to a variety of alternative locations, such as available shelters, organized tent cities, or safe parking locations. But the city will only forcibly remove individuals and their belongings from such a site if officials can offer those people stable services that can lead to housing, rather than return to homelessness.

The ordinance proposes:

• If the city determines a person living in an area or car is in a hazardous area, or they are creating a hazardous situation, it can give 48-hour notice that they will remove the person from the area. The city must also propose an alternative location where people can relocate. Prior to removing people from the area, the city must provide access to sanitation services for at least 72 hours.

• The city must provide written notice that it plans to remove people from an area that states why it deems the camp hazardous.

• The city will safeguard personal property of campers while addressing the area and transport the property to the alternative location.

• The city will provide basic garbage, sanitation and harm-reduction service upon request to encampments with more than five people.

• An 11-member committee dedicated to the homeless encampment issue will be created. It will advise the city and the mayor on homeless encampments.

• The city will be able to respond to emergency situations in encampments but won’t be able to remove people until it satisfies the requirements laid out in the ordinance.