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Lawsuit filed to keep 'Compassion Seattle' measure off November ballot

The measure would require the city to keep public spaces clear of homeless encampments and provide 2,000 units in housing within one year.

SEATTLE — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit Wednesday in a renewed attempt to keep the "Compassion Seattle" charter amendment from reaching the November ballot.

The amendment aims to put an end to homeless encampments in the city and create more permanent housing, fund mental health services and substance abuse or disorder treatment. If the measure passed, Seattle would need to provide 2,000 units of emergency and permanent housing within a year and would be required to keep public spaces clear of camps.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, other homeless activists and organizations like the Transit Riders Union. They claim the charter amendment is “an illegal use of a local ballot initiative and violates state laws that mandate how local governments make and carry out plans for addressing homelessness.”

They argue the charter amendment’s mandates for the city of Seattle go too far to be decided by voters through the ballot process.

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“[Compassion Seattle] ignores well-established limits to the local initiative process,” said ACLU lawyer Breanne Schuster in a release. “State law provides multiple avenues for constituents to influence homelessness policies and practices, but the initiative process at the city level is not one of them.”

Meanwhile, the Compassion Seattle initiative has garnered support from various types of organizations and nonprofits, including those that work closely with the homeless in Seattle. Among its supporters are the Downtown Seattle Association's Board of Directors and mayoral candidate and former Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell.

The measure qualified for the ballot with 64,155 signatures from residents, which is roughly double the required number.

In a statement, Compassion Seattle said the lawsuit is “yet another blatant tactic to preserve and protect the status quo by the same small group of activists who unsuccessfully appealed the Charter Amendment 29 ballot title.”

According to the group, polling suggests that 61% of Seattle’s voters would vote to pass the amendment, adding that homelessness is “voters’ number one issue.”

“It’s time for voters to have their say. Charter Amendment 29 is the effective and accountable solution that the public has been demanding, and we look forward to it passing in November,” the Compassion Seattle statement reads.

This year, massive spending efforts have already materialized in King County and Seattle with a new injection of funds from federal aid due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

King County has spent tens of millions of dollars on hotels for the homeless through its Health through Housing initiative, and Seattle has set aside nearly $50 million in federal aid for housing and other services for the homeless.

If the ACLU’s lawsuit fails, the measure would be placed before voters during the city’s general election this November.

RELATED: Clearing homeless encampments 'not humane,' Washington DOT secretary says

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Chief Seattle Club is a supporter of the Compassion Seattle measure. 

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