Yesterday afternoon the “Compassion Seattle” campaign filed an updated version of its proposed charter amendment ballot initiative, with two key changes to address critiques of the effort that have emerged since the initiative was first unveiled.
The new version updates the language around keeping parks and public spaces free from encampments. The original version emphasized that it would be the city’s policy to keep those spaces clear of encampments has housing becomes available, which many advocates interpreted as an attempt to return to “sweeps” of encampments. The new version softens that stance, putting more emphasis on housing and finding the right balance:
It is the City’s policy to make available emergency and permanent housing to those living unsheltered so that the City may take actions to ensure that parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces and sidewalks and streets (“public spaces”) remain open and clear of unauthorized encampments. The City shall develop policies and procedures to address those individuals who remain in public spaces, balancing the City’s strong interest in keeping public spaces clear of encampments and the possible harm to individuals caused by closing encampments. The housing and services provided shall acknowledge and be tailored to individual needs and cultural differences and be appropriately person-centered. The City shall prioritize matching willing individuals to housing based on their specific needs and situation and, as appropriate, to accommodate disabling conditions and family type in housing. The City, or its designee, shall appropriately utilize pathways to permanent housing and prioritize individuals or family needs in order to limit emergency housing stays to no longer than necessary. While there is no right to camp in any particular public space, it is City policy to avoid, as much as possible, dispersing people, except to safe and secure housing, unless remaining in place poses particular problems related to public health or safety or interferes with the use of the public spaces by others. In those circumstances where the City does not close an encampment, the City may still require individuals to shift their belongings and any structures to ensure safety, accessibility and to accommodate use of public spaces.
The other significant change in the revised version is the addition of a sunset clause:
This Article IX shall sunset and become null and void on December 31, 2027.
That’s a curious addition, that points out how strange it is to be legislating this sort of thing in the City Charter instead of in an ordinance. And it raises questions about whether anyone actually believes at this point that the homelessness crisis will be solved in the next six years.
The critique that the revised version of the charter amendment doesn’t address is the allegation that it is an “unfunded mandate.” Compassion Seattle released a “cost fact sheet” with their press release this morning, maintaining its argument that the city already has sufficient funds to address the requirements in the charter amendment, especially given the new COVID relief funding on its way. It asserts that city officials simply need to reallocate funds from other purposes — though it fails to specify what should be de-funded in order to reallocate. Further, it points to both county and state funding, even though neither King County nor the State of Washington are under any obligation to fulfill requirements codified in the Seattle City Charter, and of course the City has no legal claim to those funding sources.
The campaign said that it expects the charter amendment petition to be available for signature-gathering “later this month.”
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