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Seattle group pushes ballot measure to build housing for homeless, ban encampments in parks

A group of business and community leaders wants the city to build more housing and provide better services, while also keeping parks and playfields clear of tents.

SEATTLE — A group of Seattle business and community leaders, including nonprofits that serve the homeless, says it has a plan to end chronic encampments, by creating more permanent housing, improving social services, and taking a tougher approach to camping in parks and playfields.

The new coalition, called Compassion Seattle, proposes a change to the city charter — essentially Seattle’s constitution — which voters would consider on the November ballot. The group is collecting signatures through June.

The plan would:

  • Require the city to ensure that parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces, sidewalks and streets remain open and clear of encampments, once new homeless programs and services are in place.
  • Direct the city to provide easy, fast access to mental health and substance abuse services.
  • Require the city to fast-track the building of housing, including the creation of 2,000 initial units of emergency or permanent housing.
  • Deploy behavioral health rapid-response teams to crises, as a possible alternative to police.

Groups behind the proposal include the Downtown Seattle Association, United Way of King County, Chief Seattle Club and several non-profits that work on homeless housing issues.

Compassion Seattle said a February 2021 poll shows 71% of Seattle voters favor the charter amendment’s approach.

“(It) basically gives the city a step by step plan, an action plan of how to do this,” said Tim Burgess, a spokesman for Compassion Seattle and a former Seattle city councilmember.

He said the group will collect signatures April through early June. They need at least 33,060 registered Seattle voters to sign their petition to get the proposal on the November ballot.

“We're confident if we can collect a sufficient number of signatures and get this on the ballot, that the voters of Seattle will not only seriously consider it, but will vote to approve it,” Burgess said.