The city council's housing, human services, and culture committee—consisting, today, of council members Sally Bagshaw, Mike O'Brien, and committee chair Nick Licata—passed legislation that would allow temporary (one-year) homeless encampments, to be operated by qualified nonprofits, on non-residential private property. Currently, encampments are only allowed at religious institutions and on city-owned land.
Residents of the SHARE/WHEEL-run Nickelsville encampment, which has been parked illegally on city-owned land in Southwest Seattle for the past two years, oppose the Licata-sponsored legislation because they say it "redlines" homeless people by restricting them to non-residential parts of the city. (The bill says encampments must be at least 25 feet away from any residential property but allows encampments in industrial and commercial areas, including neighborhood commercial areas that include residential uses).
The legislation also says encampments must be within a half-mile of a transit stop, that they must be screened on three sides, and that they must be on property 5,000 square feet or larger, among other requirements.
The committee adopted several amendments today, including at least two at the behest of council member Bruce Harrell—Harrell, also a candidate for mayor, left just before the vote—placing additional requirements on future encampments.
• An amendment requiring the city and the encampment operator to hold a public meeting in the neighborhood where any encampment is planned, and form an advisory committee to provide input on how the encampment should be operated and how the encampment operator should deal with complaints;
• An increase in the minimum distance between encampments, from half a mile to two miles;
• An amendment requiring access to running water and toilets, which Nickelsville does not have;
• New liability insurance requirements for encampments on city-owned land (basically, making sure that the city isn't on the hook for any legal action against an encampment);
• And a new limit on the size and number of encampments, to either three encampments or 300 people, whichever is greater. The amendment would allow more than three encampments citywide, but only if the total number of people those encampments served was under 300 (six encampments of 50 people each, for example).
"I really do agree that the health and safety of the people in Nickelsville is absolutely paramount," council member Sally Bagshaw said. "I also see that what we’re doing here goes beyond just what is happening with people at Nickelsville," adding that "the notion of having a place where family and pets can be, that [residents] can leave their belongings there and know that they are secure" was an important factor in her vote.
We have a call out to Harrell to find out why he left the meeting before the vote and how he would have voted.