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Seattle may effectively ban homeless sweeps in head tax bill

A proposed amendment to the head tax bill would stop the city from using money from the tax for homeless sweeps.
The head tax debate comes as Seattle continues to move forward with cleaning up unsanctioned homeless encampments. (Photo: KING)

The Seattle City Council is considering an amendment in the proposed employee head tax on businesses which would effectively ban homeless camp sweeps by cutting off the money to pay for them.

The debate comes as Seattle's Navigation Team conducted another homeless camp cleanup Thursday morning, without much fanfare, in the North Green Lake neighborhood.

"I'm relieved that this is happening," said Anne Leatherman, as she stood on the sidewalk in front of her house.

Leatherman said she's lived at the spot near NE 58th Street for 32 years. Two months ago roughly two dozen homeless people moved in, she said.

"We had neighbors who had their water siphoned. We had drug users doing heroin on my neighbor's stoop. One of the residents came and was defecating in our driveway," she said.

The "nav team," as it is called for short, involves clean up crews and police who also try to find housing for the displaced residents. A city spokesperson said all the residents declined housing, even though beds were immediately available.

The amendment to the tax proposal would formally ban the new funds to be used for such a cleanup. It was unclear which council member supported the amendment, although council member Kshama Sawant has supported plumbing unauthorized encampments in the past instead of clearing them.

Leatherman says after watching the activity outside her front door, she's conflicted about spending more money on the problem.

"I have mixed feelings about the head tax," she said. "I'm not sure we're using the money that we're putting towards these problems wisely now."

Amazon announced this week it was stopping plans for some construction projects, citing the head tax.

"It seems like Amazon could afford to take the hit, but..." Leatherman continued. "It is very complicated, I certainly don't have any answers, but I've got a lot of questions."

The council is currently scheduled to have a final vote on May 14; although, sources at City Hall have suggested there are negotiations which could delay the decision.

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