The debate over unsanctioned homeless encampments continues

Among all the noise over other issues this week, the City Council has continued to discuss the pending legislation rewriting the city’s protocol for handling unsanctioned encampments. It’s been a quiet discussion behind closed doors, but that looks likely to change next week.

While Council member Tim Burgess published an essay laying out his opposition to the proposed ordinance, he and his colleagues have been discussing the finer points of the legislation behind closed doors.  West Seattle Blog got its hands on an updated draft and posted it this morning. I’ve checked with my sources in City Hall, and it appears that there is no definitive “next version” of the bill right now. What WSB got may have been leaked as a trial balloon to see how the public reacts, but be assured that Council members and their staff are still busy proposing revisions.

I am hearing that the Council intends to publish an official new draft on Tuesday, and then take it up for consideration at a special meeting of the Human Services and Public Health Committee next Friday (which is already on the official calendar).

The leaked version of the bill has changes that align with comments made by Council members at the last hearing, including:

  • A longer definition of “unsuitable locations” that explicitly includes sidewalks in front of residential buildings and improved areas of parks. It also notes that there is already an existing city ordinance that prohibits sitting or sleeping on sidewalks in the downtown core and neighborhood commercial zones of the city during certain times of day.
  • An  updated definition of “public space” which excludes: areas outside city limits; land not owned, leased, maintained, controlled or managed by the city; Public Development Authorities such as Pike Place Market; public schools, colleges and universities; and the Port of Seattle.
  • Defining when the city’s staff (including SPD) may  assist other government authorities in removing unsanctioned encampments from property they control within the city limits.
  • Requiring the Council to produce a companion ordinance to define the protocol for homeless people living in vehicles by April 30, 2017.
  • Reducing the penalty the city would pay for violating the ordinance to $50 per individual per incident (from $250).
  • Adding an expiration date for the ordinance of two years after its effective date, and requiring the Mayor to report to the Council on implementation every six months.

Expect more changes before we see an official version on Tuesday.


  1. Just read through the proposal- even if schools etc are added as “Unsuitable”, the City still has to give them 48 hours to vacate. Homelessness is definitely a problem that the Council has to address, but why not look at cities doing it right like Houston and Boston rather than make up these proposals that harm the general population without doing anything meaningful for the homeless population at risk.

    1. The short answer is the bill’s proponents believe that not pushing them around the city does something meaningful for them. There’s room for disagreement there, but it’s a legitimate point of view.

Comments are closed.