Update (May 28): After two hours of public comment and three hours of deliberation, the Seattle City Council declined to take action on the legislation, which will be reviewed again on June 10.
Original (May 27): The Seattle City Council will be reviewing legislation today to allow tent encampments to remain in most places of the city in order to limit the spread of coronavirus.
The proposed legislation came about after the city’s Navigation Team conducted an encampment removal at Ballard Commons Park on May 4. Back in March, the City said it would mostly stop encampment removals due to coronavirus, instead focusing on outreach. The only encampments that would be removed were those that presented an extraordinary public safety hazard.
However, city councilmember and lead sponsor of the legislation, Tammy Morales, told The Seattle Times that the Ballard encampment removal and others shows that the city’s statement wasn’t enough, and that the removal restrictions should be formalized.
The legislation proposes that the City limit the removal of encampments, “to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and contraction by allowing individuals residing in those encampments the opportunity to develop better connections to hygiene services and increase their self-distancing, rather than focusing their efforts on locating new areas to camp or clustering into fewer areas.”
If it passes, funding to the Navigation Team will be restricted. The legislation alludes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that public funds should not be used to remove or relocate an unsanctioned encampment, “except in limited circumstances in order to prevent transmission of COVID-19 throughout the general population and avoid increasing risks for people experiencing homelessness.”
In a newsletter, Ballard Alliance Executive Director Mike Stewart asked the community to urge the city council to table the proposal, saying the Navigation Team’s efforts in May to remove the Ballard Commons encampment were critical to addressing the Hepatitis-A outbreak.
Will Lemke from the Seattle Human Services Department told My Ballard that since mid-April, the Navigation Team has referred 29 unsheltered individuals from the Ballard Commons area to recently opened tiny home villages and enhanced shelter beds at Lake Union Village, T.C. Spirit Village, and Lakefront Community House. He says eight individuals accepted shelter on the day of the Ballard encampment removal.
The city council’s Select Committee on Homelessness Strategies and Investments will review the legislation today, Wed. May 27 in a remote meeting at 2pm. To pass, a three-quarters vote is needed, plus approval from Mayor Jenny Durkan. However, according to the Times, Durkan takes issue with the legislation as it would limit the city’s ability to protect residents from COVID-19 and other public health and safety concerns.
You can provide public comments by registering online beginning at noon today, and the comment period will start at the beginning of the meeting. The full meeting agenda is available online, and you can watch the meeting live on the Seattle Channel or listen by phone at 206-684-8566.
File photo of Ballard Commons Park clean-up from May