Seattle mayor's panel wants permanent homeless camp on city land
A mayor's panel wants to create a permanent site on city land as well as open up City Hall and parks for homeless with nowhere else to sleep.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle should put a permanent homeless encampment on city land within a month and open up parks and the basement of City Hall to people with nowhere else to sleep, a mayor-appointed citizens panel said Monday.
"There really should be a recognition that this is a crisis, that this is an emergency," said Rick Friedhoff, director of the Compass Center and a member of Mayor Mike McGinn's citizen panel on encampments. "This is something that we really don't want to be accustomed to as the norm."
Monday evening, Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith planned to send panel members a list of several potential sites for a permanent, city-sanctioned homeless encampment of 100 to 150 people.
Smith said the mayor's office would not release the list of possible locations until panel members have a chance to weigh in.
The city would seek a nonprofit or other organization to manage the encampment, providing services to residents and data to the city.
The panel's recommendations come as Nickelsville — a 2-year-old encampment with about 100 residents — faces a Nov. 15 deadline to leave its current home, in a University District parking lot.
Another large outdoor encampment, a tent city sponsored by SHARE/WHEEL, is at Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral.
In response to the harsh weather, the city planned to open emergency shelters at City Hall and the Frye Hotel downtown on Monday and Tuesday night.
Homeless counts indicate that, on any given day in Seattle, there are nearly 2,000 people with nowhere to sleep.
McGinn spoke on the campaign trail last year about his support for a permanent encampment. Soon after taking office, he met with some homeless people and their advocates and set up his 10-member advisory panel.
"We want to have a different relationship, not necessarily just with Nickelsville, but with the issue itself," said Smith.
"There's a recognition, despite all of the really great work ... that we still have an issue. We still have a problem."
A group of homeless people established Nickelsville in 2008, to link then-Mayor Greg Nickels to the Hooverville shantytowns of the Great Depression.
Nickelsville got started after the city cleared out small encampments around Seattle. Before protests forced a change in policy, the city discarded the belongings found during those sweeps.
Panel member Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness, said McGinn's administration already has changed its approach to dealing with homeless people.
In the spring, McGinn moved authority over homeless encampments from the Office of Policy and Management to the Human Services Department, softening the city's approach.
Councilmember Nick Licata said there likely would be controversy over specific sites but added Nickelsville has a good "track record."
Tents are not an ideal solution to homelessness but a fine way for the city to address the "ongoing emergency" of thousands of people without homes, he said.
"I think Mayor McGinn truly has a very strong humanist streak in caring about all the people in Seattle and I think he sees his election as a ... message that he needs to address the needs of folks who've been ignored in the past," Licata said.
Monday's meeting in City Hall was packed with nearly 100 people, many of them homeless, who thanked the panel for recognizing the problem.
"This is everything we were really hoping for," said one Nickelsville resident.
"A couple years ago when this started, things weren't like this. ... You've basically decriminalized homelessness."
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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