Friday is expected to be a busy day at Seattle city hall, as council members meet to discuss several big changes to proposed legislation regarding homeless encampments.
The 9:30 a.m. special called council committee meeting will be preceded by an 8 a.m. rally held by those who are frustrated with how the city is handling the homeless crisis.
"We need to come together to send the city council a clear message, to stop working on this failed legislation and start working on real solutions," said Interbay resident Harley Lever, who helped organize the rally.
Lever say recent revisions to the controversial encampment legislation are still far from a victory for concerned neighbors.
Council members Sally Bagshaw and Mike O'Brien have both proposed new versions of the encampment ordinance. Their updated proposals declare public parks and sidewalks as "unsuitable locations" for homeless encampments.
Bagshaw said council received unprecedented feedback about an earlier version of the legislation that would've cleared the way for the homeless to set up tents on sidewalks and in public parks.
"We have received in our office almost 5,000 emails. We've received hundreds of phone calls," she said. "And the vast majority of people said please don't allow people to camp on our sidewalks or our parks or anywhere close to schools. Those were the three areas people felt really concerned about."
Bagshaw said that feedback is the reason she's proposing changes to the original ordinance.
But she also points out that the city can't just kick the homeless out of parks without providing them with somewhere else to go.
"I want the mayor to really step up on this," she said. "I've spoken with him. I've spoken with people in his department, to tell them to find places where people can be. And I'm talking about more sanctioned encampments."
Just a few hours later, the mayor did just that, announcing new efforts to serve the homeless during a Thursday evening news conference.
"We will open four new authorized encampments with options including those similar to existing sites, and a pilot for low barrier, harm reduction encampments," said Mayor Ed Murray. "I'm allocating $1.2 million of funding for this proposal in the budget."
Murray said another $1 million in his 2017 budget is allocated for the Seattle Human Services Department to work with community groups to create immediate additional indoor shelter and storage capacity for the homeless.
Murray stressed the four new authorized encampments are not intended to be a long-term solution, but rather a short-term fix that will give the homeless somewhere else to go when they are asked to remove their tents from sidewalks and public parks.
"The city will not displace people from unauthorized encampments unless we can provide them with a reasonable alternative of a place to go," said Murray.
He also said the city is still on track to open up its Homeless Navigation Center by January of 2017.
Murray said his plan to address recent challenges regarding the homeless population will be in the hands of city council by next week.
But is that enough?
In a statement, Bagshaw praised Thursday's update from the mayor.
"I am thrilled the mayor has announced his decision to open four new safe encampments and demonstrated his commitment to improving Seattle's resources for people experiencing homelessness. I am particularly pleased to hear the city will expand low-barrier shelter options, including the Navigation Center, and invest in an interim strategy to care for people while we make necessary changes to our homeless services system," said Bagshaw.
She said she's looking forward to working with mayor's office representatives during Friday's 9:30 a.m. meeting of city council's Human Services and Public Health Committee.
Meanwhile, Lever said concerned neighbors are going through with their plans for an 8 a.m. rally at city hall, despite Thursday's developments. He says they are still unhappy with the way city leaders are handling the homeless crisis.
"Whether you're in a park or an underpass or anywhere outside, that's not a win," said Lever. "That's not a victory. A suitable place is inside. An unsuitable place is outside. If they'd put as much effort into actually fixing this situation as they did into trying to define suitable versus unsuitable, we'd be a lot further ahead with solving this issue than we are now."
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