Council’s resolution on the Jungle cleanup

This afternoon the City Council will take up a resolution laying out principles on how the city should approach cleaning up the unsanctioned homeless encampment known as the “Jungle.”

Here is the final text of the resolution, barring any last-minute amendments. Great care has been taken with its wording, through days of negotiation with the Mayor’s office as Council member Bagshaw attested to this morning in the Council Briefing.

Comparing it to the draft resolution that Bagshaw shared at her committee hearing last week, the new version has been pared down to focus much more specifically on the actions to be taken directed at the Jungle, and it no longer addresses larger issues around homelessness and unsanctioned homeless encampments around the city. Bagshaw can’t be happy about that, since as she told me last week she disagrees with the Mayor that the Jungle is a higher priority.

Still, this resolution spells out with great precision the process with which the city departments will proceed with their cleanup efforts:

  • It declares that neither Jungle residents, nor their possessions, will be removed until meaningful offers of appropriate shelter, housing or alternative spaces” are made. If goes on further to spell out how those meaningful offers will be made:
  • They will use “religiously and culturally appropriate practices to reduce harm for individuals living in the Greenbelt and promote public health within the Greenbelt and adjoining neighborhoods.” This is a nod to some people’s nervousness over Union Gospel Mission’s role in leading the outreach and shelter efforts, as well as an effort to establish the much-talked-about strategy of “harm reduction” as a foundation of how we treat the homeless, for whom lack of shelter is often only one of many issues they are dealing with.
  • They will engage and develop relationships with individuals living in the Jungle and determine their “individual needs and potential barriers to shelter and housing” and “make meaningful offers of available shelter and services that appropriately meets the needs of people experiencing homelessness in the Greenbelt”. This is a shout-out to the “3 P’s” of barriers: pets, partners and possessions, as well as whether they have addiction or mental health issues, criminal or evection records or a history of domestic violence incidents, since most shelters can’t provide adequately for people with these any of these issues (if they accept them at all).

The resolution is heavy on documentation: outreach workers and organizations are required to document the offers of housing and services that have been made, and if accepted to further document where the individuals went and which agencies provided the services.

Before anyone can be forcibly removed from the Jungle, the Council must receive a full account of the outreach efforts, and at least three working days before removal the Council must be given notice and provided “information regarding how many people are expected to be present in the relevant area and what offers of shelter and service have been made to that population.”

Also, the Council will receive monthly reports on the Jungle cleanup effort, including lots of data: number of people contacted, a description of services offered, the count of people who have accepted service offers and where they went, and demographic information (including barriers).

There are several nods to the ongoing public health and safety hazards present: stricter enforcement of laws restricting open fire and uncontrolled burning of materials under I-5, access roads built and improved, and cleanup of human waste, needles flammable items and garbage.

The one action that raises the larger issue of homeless response, and that will please Bagshaw, is a commitment to create “a strategic analysis and system mapping approach to improve funder alignment and regional outcomes.” In essence, this is a repudiation of the city’s current piecemeal approach to providing shelter and other services, which has created a system where services can’t easily be matched to individuals’ needs.

The compromises are fairly close to in-line with what I predicted last week: there is no outright ban on forcible evictions (though there are a lot of process hoops to jump through first), and while trash bags and needle disposal receptacles will be provided by outreach workers, there won’t be porta-potties provided — a half-measure that Herbold and Bagshaw will dislike and may call out this afternoon. But politics is the art of the possible, and this compromise resolution is valuable in that it codifies procedures that the Mayor’s office had left vague (and shifting), and it demands documentation and reports from an executive branch that often can’t be bothered to provide them. It will be interesting to see which homeless advocates show up to this afternoon’s Council meeting — and whether they throw their support behind the resolution.