Sawant wants to stop homeless sweeps, add portable toilets to unauthorized camps

by: KIRO 7 News Staff Updated:

SEATTLE, Wash. - Seattle Socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant wants to keep city workers from sweeping unauthorized homeless camps. 

Rob Munoz attended a committee meeting, wherein 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.”  

During the meeting, Sawant also proposed funds for sanitation, portable toilets, and trash removal for unauthorized camps. 

In a Facebook event page for a budget-related rally this week organized by Sawant, the councilwoman calls the city budget a “moral document that reveals the values of our city’s elected officials.” 


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“So we know what it means when they pass a business-as-usual budget year after year: wasting millions on inhumane and ineffective sweeps of homeless people while catering to the interests of big business and a bloated budget for the police department,” she wrote. “We can stop this! By building a strong People's Budget movement.” 

Sawant describes the People’s Budget movement as one that stops sweeps, funds social services as an alternative to sweeps, and figures out affordable housing.

How the city works with unauthorized camps right now

Seattle launched a new navigation team this year as a joint effort between the city and Washington Department of Transportation.

In September, Meg Olberding, the Seattle director of external affairs, Human Services Department told KIRO 7 News how the navigation team identifies camps to sweep. 

“We identify areas by hazard and if the people living there are too close to the side of the highway,” Olberding said.

"Navigation team gets to know people in the [camps], makes offers of service, make offers of a safer location, like coming into a sanctioned encampment.”

Per city policy, when the navigation team issues notices for people to leave, they have a few days to disperse.

Seattle sanctions six homeless camps in the city, and the navigation team also offers shelters when posting notices at unauthorized camp. But even with the new navigation team, there is no way to check up regularly on the city’s 400 camps.

Olberding did tell KIRO 7 that the navigation team has addressed 36 hazardous camps over the past seven months, though it’s not clear how many of those camps quickly returned. Removal information is posted by date here.

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