Amendment defines city parks, sidewalks as ‘unsuitable' for encampments

The revised proposals make a big adjustment by declaring sidewalks and public parks are now "unsuitable" locations for camps.

SEATTLE – Councilmember Sally Bagshaw amended new homeless encampment legislation Wednesday to make public parks and sidewalks “unsuitable” for camps.

Seattle City Council will not vote on new homeless encampment legislation Friday, but discuss the amended legislation instead, according to Bagshaw's office.

The amended legislation defines “unsuitable” locations for encampments for the first time, including city parks, restored natural areas, pedestrian walkways, and sidewalks, including sidewalk portions that interfere with Americans with Disabilities Act access.

Before officials remove individuals from unsuitable locations, they must offer opportunities for services, such as a shelter bed.

After spending weeks finding areas that the council and community leaders agreed the homeless could camp, Bagshaw said they "still are debating important issues.”

"There’s no question in our minds that 'sweeping' people without improved places to go makes things worse for everyone," Bagshaw wrote in an email. "We must provide more safe spaces where people can stabilize and invest in coordinated care systems."

The proposed ordinance unveiled earlier this month included a potential 30-day eviction notice for encampments, instead of the current 72-hour law, but tried to outline suitable and unsuitable locations for living quarters.

The maps showed, based on the language, 167 miles of sidewalks would be open for camping, and almost 5,200 acres of city parks and greenbelts. That, according to the city study, could include parts of Greenlake, Woodland Park, Magnuson Park, Discovery Park, Lincoln Park, Seward Park, and Arboretum.

Councilmember Tim Burgess said the feedback to the proposal is unlike anything he's seen or heard in his City Hall career.

"It's just not in the public interest in my view," said Burgess on Thursday.  "The legislation, as it's written today, would essentially create a right to camp in the city, and as long as you keep moving you can camp in the city forever."

Another City Hall staffer said the negative public outcry over the proposal was "unprecedented." Bagshaw said the City has received thousands of emails and phone calls about the proposal, mostly in opposition.

Related: 10,000 sign petition against Council homeless plan

Councilmember Mike O'Brien has also submitted amended encampments legislation.  His proposal is similar to Bagshaw's in that it would also make sidewalks and public parks off-limits to tent encampments.

On Wednesday night, he told KING 5 how enforcement of that legislation would work.

"If someone did set up a tent, we could come, as soon as someone got out here, and we could relocate them immediately.  But we'd have to connect them with services.  If we had shelter we'd have to make those offers, and we'd have to help them move to a place that is not listed as unsuitable," said O'Brien.

Where O'Brien's proposal differs from Bagshaw's is that his would allow the homeless to continue to camp in the greenbelts above Interstate 5, such as the spot that's often referred to as the jungle.

O'Brien says that's still city owned land, and he'd rather see people camping there than in what he calls "activated, maintained" public parks.

"The challenge here is that I don't want anyone sleeping in parks, and I'm hearing from thousands of people saying don't let people sleep in parks," he said.  "But we have three thousand people outdoors tonight, and they're going to have to sleep somewhere.  And we if don't give them any guidance, they're going to be in the parks we use the most, until we get more housing."

Revised legislation will be discussed in Council Chambers on Friday.  No final decisions have been made.

Copyright 2016 KING


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