Homeless advocates hold 'die-in' at Seattle City Hall

66 people have died on Seattle streets this year alone

Homeless advocates conducted a "die-in" in the lobby of Seattle City Hall Friday morning, continuing an effort that started Thursday night calling on city leaders to stop all sweeps of homeless encampments.

The overnight protest began on the two-year anniversary of the day Seattle declared a state of emergency on the homeless. The demonstration also coincided with a public hearing on the city's 2018 proposed budget.  More than 140 people signed up to speak at that hearing, and the issue of homelessness dominated the conversation.

Most used their time at the podium to explain why they feel the practice of sweeping homeless encampments is ineffective and inhumane.

"I have seen the sweeps over and over firsthand," said one person at Wednesday's hearing.  "They are traumatizing when police come and push you from place to place, you have nowhere to go, and what little stability you have is ruined."

It's a message that was echoed repeatedly, amidst chants of "stop the sweeps" in council chambers.

"What is it going to to take for you to stop sweeping human beings off the streets like they're garbage.  Sweep is the operative word.  These are our unhoused neighbors.  These people are dying," said someone else.

Others spoke in favor of the newly proposed business tax on large employers, that would generate about $24 million annually to address the homeless crisis in Seattle.  Only businesses that gross more than $5 million a year would pay the tax.

"It is because of Seattle's tech boom that homelessness is worsening in Seattle.  It is only fair that companies that have contributed to the problem help solve it," one person told council members.

But not everyone who spoke at the hearing felt the same way.

"I want to address you, Council Member Sawant.  Yesterday, you mentioned you had an economics degree but had never run a business.  Well, I have a business and with any business there comes expenses.  This isn't about Bartell's or Nordstrom or Amazon, this is about council trying to tax their way out of this situation," said a business owner who attended the hearing.

Ahead of the planned campout at city hall, activists and homeless advocates set up tents outside the building.  City staff said the group has a permit to be outside City Hall until 6 a.m. Thursday.

Others vowed to spend the entire night inside City Hall.

When the nearly five-hour-long public hearing on the budget came to an end, the group moved into City Hall. City staff told KING 5 the group had a permit to stay inside city hall until 12 a.m.  After that, city staff said people would be forced to leave.

Sawant was one of several speakers who spoke to the crowd during a rally held inside the Bertha Knight Landes Room at City Hall.

"It's not just about speaking to the politicians. It's about speaking to all our neighbors, to all of the people living in our city.  And I know the majority of Seattle is on our side in terms of wanting social justice to be done in this city," Sawant told KING 5.

Sawant said she would stay at City Hall with protesters through the evening.

Sawant organized the sleepover at City Hall after introducing a measure that would restrict city spending on the removal of unauthorized homeless encampments.

But in a memo dated Wednesday, Mayor Tim Burgess and a long list of city department heads expressed serious concern about any legislation that would stop 'sweeps' in Seattle.

Many taking part in Wednesday's demonstration said they would be willing to risk arrest in order to remain at city hall overnight. They said it would be worth it, to draw attention to the issues of sweeps at homeless encampments.

Then, at about 12:30 a.m., Sawant and Director of Finance & Administrative Services Fred Podesta reached an agreement that allowed the crowd to remain inside city hall until 6 a.m.

"Folks are going to continue with their work and discussion probably until 6:00 a.m., we're expecting.  This has been a great opportunity for people to express their opinions and we're going to continue to let them do that," said Podesta.  "This has been a very peaceful event, and a lot of opinions have been exchanged, and I think that's going to continue to happen."

Sawant called it a political and moral victory.  When she told the crowd they were allowed to stay inside city hall until 6:00 a.m., the announcement was met with cheers and applause.

"I think it's a huge victory," said Sawant.  "We have regular people here, working people, homeless people, activists, social justice activists, we are all here and we are occupying city hall in the way it's supposed to be.  This is City all.  It belongs to the city, it belongs to the people of this city."

Sawant said activists would spend their night at city holding workshops amongst themselves and having conversations focused on the issues of homelessness and affordable housing.

Sawant organized a "die-in" inside the City Hall lobby Friday morning. She said the protesters would leave City Hall by 9 a.m.

© 2017 KING-TV


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