Homeless encampments gather under the I-5 freeway in Seattle's International District. • Photo by Anakin Fung
Homeless encampments gather under the I-5 freeway in Seattle’s International District. • Photo by Anakin Fung

The following is an open letter by several organizations to members of the Seattle City Council about the memo issued by the Mayor’s office regarding homeless encampments.

The City’s current approach to homeless encampments is not working. Regrettably, the memo issued by the Mayor’s office completely mischaracterizes the ordinance drafted to provide a more effective and fairer response. The proposed ordinance actually prioritizes use of City resources and reduces encampments, not expands them.

First and foremost, the ordinance promotes a “housing first” approach and outreach to help people move into housing instead of being shuffled around to different encampments, a practice which has caused friction with some neighborhoods. While the Mayor has said he supports a housing first approach, his office’s memo does not address housing for Seattle residents living unsheltered and instead makes inaccurate claims about the ordinance. These claims are misleading in many ways:

  • City parks & green space: The ordinance would reduce the encampments in Seattle, not expand them to City parks and green space.
  • Blockage of sidewalks & unsafe locations: Sidewalks have a public use and if they are blocked, the ordinance creates a framework for removing people from them, as well as other unsuitable locations. The ordinance explicitly addresses unsafe locations and allows for the removal of people and property from locations that pose an imminent danger of harm.
  • School property & other public entities: The ordinance provides for expedited removals in emergencies and when encampments are in problematic places such as schools property.
  • Criminal activity: The ordinance states that the City can continue to respond to emergencies, including fires, crimes, and medical crises.
  • Cost of implementation: Providing a fairer and more effective policy for unsheltered people will involve expenditure of resources, but the Mayor’s office has greatly inflated those costs.
  • Use of resources: Currently, the City is spending millions of dollars to sweep people from encampments around the City, which has not reduced homelessness, the number of encampments, or complaints. Under the ordinance’s framework, the City’s resources would be spent much more effectively.
  • Liability: The City’s current practices are exposing the City to liability by removing individuals from public space and throwing away their property without adequate due process. The City is also allowing hazards and garbage to mount, without providing the necessary means for disposal and other basic services that will reduce exposure of the general public to these conditions.


Elisabeth Smith, ACLU of Washington

Ann LoGerfo and Yurij Rudensky, Columbia Legal Services

Alison Eisinger, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness

Alex Doolittle, Seattle Community Law Center

Tim Harris, Real Change

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