Focusing on Homelessness Solutions that Work

October 24th, 2017

As we close in on the two-year anniversary of our City’s mayor having declared a “civil emergency” around homelessness, Seattle’s housing crisis is still very visible across the city.  It’s obvious that we need more money for immediate fixes – like funding emergency shelters and diversion programs to keep people off the streets and out of jail – as well as long-term solutions like building additional housing units.

While the current Mayor’s budget includes some marginal investments, I’m afraid it sets us up for failure, because it doubles down on sweeps as a solution to the homeless crisis, literally almost doubling the amount we are spending this year to $2 million.

How about we invest in what works instead?

Earlier today Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley and I vocalized our support for an amendment to the Mayor’s 2018 budget which would effectively tax the top 10% grossing businesses in Seattle to fund more 24-hour homeless shelters, affordable housing, safe lots for people living in their vehicles, and an expansion of the nationally-recognized Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. Watch my remarks here.

Councilmember Mike O'Brien discussing the HOMES proposal

Our Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter (HOMES) proposal creates immediate shelter and long-term housing options to address this crisis. We know that HOMES won’t fix every factor of homelessness in the city, but it’s a significant investment that supports successful strategies, and will make a difference.

The proposal asks that businesses making more than $5 million in revenue a year pay 5 cents an hour per employee ($100/year for a full-time employee). The proposal will exempt the smallest 90% of businesses in Seattle (those that gross less than $5 million a year) and is expected to generate $24 million annually. Most of that money will be directed to affordable housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness, and could help hundreds of people a year find shelter and housing.

We’ve created a lot of wealth in this City over the past few years, but that wealth has been concentrated at the top, and has exacerbated inequality.  That’s why we invite the businesses that are creating, and benefiting from, this City’s boom to alleviate the unintended consequences of their success, and to contribute to systemic changes in the city that can help all our residents thrive.

The proposal will be discussed over the course of the City’s budget process, with a final vote on the legislation anticipated on Monday, November 20th.

For more information about the HOMES proposal, please visit: http://www.seattle.gov/council/meet-the-council/mike-obrien/homes-proposal

 

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One Step Closer to Lowering Barriers for ADUs – We Want Your Input!

October 2nd, 2017

Housing affordability is one of the biggest issues we face in Seattle today. The City has identified a need for providing a mix of housing types at prices accessible to people at all levels of income for homeowners and renters alike. I believe lowering the barriers to creating accessory dwelling units (ADUs) is an important part of addressing affordability across the city. We’re beginning the environmental review process to analyze potential effects of encouraging more ADUs in Seattle, and we want your input.

Backyard cottages and in-law units can provide more affordable options for housing in neighborhoods where homes are often unaffordable to many people. ADUs are small, secondary dwelling units inside, attached to, or in the rear yard of a single-family house. A detached ADU (DADU), often called a “backyard cottage,” is a separate structure allowed in the rear yard of certain single-family-zoned lots. DADUs can be new structures or created through conversion of an existing structure, like a garage.

Seattle has relatively few backyard cottages right now. In May 2016, the Seattle City Council released a proposal to make it easier for homeowners to build backyard cottages and in-law units in Seattle and increase housing options for Seattle renters.

The initial analysis from the City’s Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) suggests that adding a backyard cottage on just five percent of eligible single-family lots could create about 4,000 new housing units.

Based on a decision from the City’s Hearing Examiner in December 2016, the City is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to review the potential environmental impacts of the proposal, which would:

  • allow an attached ADU and a backyard cottage on the same lot
  • remove the existing off-street parking and owner-occupancy requirements
  • change some development standards that regulate the size and location of backyard cottages

The EIS process includes several opportunities for community members to weigh in on the analysis, and I encourage you to do so. We will kick-off the EIS process with a 30-day scoping comment period beginning on October 2, 2017, and anticipate releasing the Draft EIS in spring 2018 and the Final EIS in summer 2018. The full timeline is available online.

Share your feedback!

The first phase of the EIS process is to determine the scope of the study, and the City wants your input on what to consider and analyze as we explore allowing more ADUs in Seattle’s neighborhoods.  During the scoping phase, you can help determine the alternatives the City will study, potential environmental impacts to consider, and possible measures to avoid or reduce the effects of the proposal.

DEADLINE:  Comments are due by 5:00 p.m. on November 1, 2017. You can share your input in several ways:

For more information, visit seattle.gov/council/ADU-EIS.

What is an EIS? An EIS is a tool to inform decision making about the positive and negative effects of a proposal. The proposal might be a project, like construction of a new building or road, or a new policy or plan that could affect the environment. Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requires Environmental Impact Statements so that the public, tribes, and other public agencies can help identify a proposal’s environmental impacts, as well as strategies for reducing or avoiding them. Decision-makers can then approve, modify, or deny the proposal as appropriate.


Seattle Committed to Paris and the Climate

June 22nd, 2017

After President Trump announced his intentions to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord earlier this month, Mayor Murray announced Seattle’s intention to meet or exceed Seattle’s target of the federal Clean Power Plan, joining with dozens of cities and several states in the effort. If the United States Government and Donald Trump aren’t going to take climate change seriously, then cities and states will come together at a sub-national level to step up.

Last week, I sponsored a Resolution that was unanimously adopted by Council to affirm our commitments to the Paris Climate Accord, including the potential to go beyond Seattle’s already ambitious Climate Action Plan, and also calls upon Puget Sound Energy to demonstrate leadership by rejecting fossil fuel infrastructure.

More than half the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050 cities will likely be bursting with almost 70% of the people on the planet. We also know that cities account almost 2/3 of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Cities can also be incubators for the solutions to climate change, and we must act now.

Seattle is no stranger to taking on local issues with regional – or national – significance.  So it makes sense that our city officials continue to tackle climate change head on by reducing pollution, improving aging infrastructure, and making walking, biking, and transit more attractive to residents, no matter who occupies the White House.

We embarked on this mission under Mayor Greg Nickels, when he led our city’s involvement in global agreements like the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and tried to tackle these problems head on.  We continued that tradition last year when many local leaders and I had a chance to go to Paris to be a part of the global climate conference there.  It was incredible to see what cities are doing around the world to make meaningful strides towards ending our dependence on fossil fuels, and many of them were efforts we’re already undertaking in Seattle.

The most important thing we can do locally is to create viable alternatives for people to get around without the use of fossil fuels.  That’s where my passions for expanding transit access and improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure, making land use decisions to create denser cities, and ending our addiction to fossil fuels, come from. I am also firmly committed to our City’s Equity and Environment Initiative, which works to ensure that those most disproportionately experiencing the impacts of climate change – people of color, immigrants, refugees, people with low income and people with limited-English proficiency – can be the leading voices and beneficiaries in our efforts to fight climate change. We will continue and expand these efforts, no matter who occupies the White House.

We must also call upon other local leaders to step up their efforts if we are going to fill the gap in leadership at the federal level. In particular, Puget Sound Energy continues to rely on coal power, and is the owner of a plant that is the 3rd largest carbon polluter in the US. It is time for PSE to walk its talk and retire the entire Colstrip coal plant by 2025 and publicly commit to replacing the plant with 100% renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions.

We also call on state leaders to act on climate-related efforts and deny permits for all new fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Washington, including the proposed nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, WA.  I’m disappointed, and frankly outraged, that the final permits went through for the world’s largest methanol refinery in Kalama, WA. The expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and the export of fossil fuels significantly undermines the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement; it puts us backwards on the path towards saving the planet; and contradicts Inslee’s previous commitment to fulfill the Paris Climate Accords that he made just a couple weeks ago.

The future of the human race depends on decisions we make in the present, and in response to choices we’ve made in the past. In the absence of federal leadership, we have a moral imperative to take bold action the City, State, and Regional level to fight for our future existence.


Upcoming Office Hours and Legislative Updates

April 4th, 2017

Upcoming Office Hours

We are once again bringing City Hall to District 6 on Wednesday April 5! Please join me at the Ballard Public Library from 4:30-6:30pm. Bring your questions and concerns about your neighborhood. There is no official sign-up and one-on-one meetings will be available based on first-come, first-serve.

Greenlake Community Center

The Green Lake Community Center is a true “gem” of Seattle. While the building itself is showing signs of age, the community it continues to foster is as powerful as ever. I deeply value this community space and want to ensure it remains enjoyable and accessible for all the members of District 6 and the larger community. The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department has identified that the community center needs major capital improvements. It has been estimated that the necessary rebuild would cost more than $25 million. There has been much community conversation about achieving these improvements. In a Community Center Strategic Plan document last year, the Parks Department expressed concern about their ability to fund the rebuild and suggested exploring alternate arrangements including long term financing and partnering with non-profits. Some community members have expressed strong skepticism about a partnership and frustration that ongoing maintenance is falling behind. While I am open to exploring creative solutions, any plan will need broad community support to earn my backing. I look forward to working with the Parks Department and community members to find a financially sound and community supported plan to move forward.

Update on Backyard Cottage Legislation and Next Steps


In May of 2016, I released a proposal that would make it easier for more homeowners to build backyard cottages and mother-in-law units in Seattle, and provide more affordable housing options for Seattle renters.  This past December, we received a response from the Hearing Examiner that reversed the City’s SEPA determination of non-significance. After thorough examination of her response, we have decided to pursue a full environmental impact statement (EIS).  This process will likely take a year to complete. When the EIS is complete, we hope to bring legislation to committee by mid-2018.

Final Route Chosen for Burke-Gilman Missing Link

After more than 20 years of disputes, Seattle’s biking community and members of Ballard’s maritime industry have agreed on a route to complete the missing link of the Burke-Gilman Trail along Shilshole Avenue through Ballard. This route represents the interests of the thousands of people who have written comments, attended rallies, and publicly testified for the “Shilshole South” Alternative. The Final Environmental Impact Statement will be completed this Spring, with construction anticipated to start in 2018. While there is still the possibility of an appeal, the City does not anticipate further delays, and I will do everything I can to accelerate the timeline.



Update on Backyard Cottage Legislation & Next Steps

March 27th, 2017

Affordability in housing is one of the biggest issues we face in Seattle today. The City of Seattle has identified the need for more housing at prices accessible to people at all levels of income, both for homeowners and renters. In May of 2016, I released a proposal that would make it easier for more homeowners to build backyard cottages and mother-in-law units in Seattle, and provide more affordable housing options for Seattle renters.  The bill proposes a series of changes to make it more feasible for homeowners to build additional units.

Following the release, the Queen Anne Community Council appealed to the hearing examiner, challenging the City’s SEPA determination of non-significance. This past December we received the response from the Hearing Examiner that reversed the determination.  After thorough examination of her response, we have decided to pursue a full environmental impact statement (EIS).  This process will likely take a year to complete.  The full EIS will enable us to look deeply into the possible impacts of the proposed code changes and inform our proposal before we bring it to the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee.

There will be multiple opportunities for input during the EIS process.  We will keep you informed of these opportunities for public comment and encourage you to engage.  When the EIS is complete, we hope to bring legislation to committee by mid-2018.

I believe lowering the barriers to creating backyard cottages and in-law apartments is an important part of addressing affordability across the city, and am looking forward to continuing to pursue this legislation.

If you have further questions, please reach out to Susie Levy – susie.levy@seattle.gov or call our office at 206-684-8800.


10% Affordable Housing Requirement in the University District Rezone

February 16th, 2017

The Council is preparing to vote on the University District Rezone this coming Tuesday, February 21st.  This is the first legislation that will incorporate the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation, which will require developers to contribute to affordable housing.  While we passed the framework legislation for commercial and residential buildings in 2015 and 2016, this will be the first legislation to implement it.  We have the opportunity to require that the tallest buildings, receiving the largest height increase, set aside 10% of new units for people making no more than 60% AMI.  I am currently unsure if we have the votes to make that happen.

The legislation is currently written to set aside 9% in the high-rise zones, and my proposal would make that a 10% set aside.  It is not a huge jump, but we believe it could create an additional 44-64 additional units over the next 10 years in the University District. It also sets the precedent for future rezones that we require significant housing contributions for significant height increases.

Thus far, the main arguments I have heard in opposition is that my proposed increase would make it infeasible to build in the U-District.  I don’t agree. The estimated costs per square foot for building high-rise construction in the U-District is $284-303/SF.  My amendment would raise that cost by $2.25/SF to $286-305/SF.  I don’t believe this difference will make or break a project.

For example, a new 300 unit high-rise residential building would need to set aside 27 units.  My amendment would require an additional 3 units be set aside for people making 60% AMI or less, bringing the total to 30 units.  Again, I don’t believe this is infeasible. But it does set a precedent.
MHA Table
When we finalized our MHA framework legislation that sets in place the nuts and bolts of the program, we made clear our intent to require greater set asides in areas with significant increased capacities and areas in the city with a high risk of displacement.  This is our chance to operationalize that intent and set the tone for future rezones.

If not now, when? The best way to ensure strong requirements is to incorporate this change into the bill this Tuesday.  If you feel strongly, the easiest way to communicate with council is to email council@seattle.gov.  


Seeking Justice for Greenwood Businesses Blown Apart by PSE

February 7th, 2017

Nearly one year ago an explosion rocked the Greenwood neighborhood early on the morning of March 9.  The Puget Sound Energy (PSE) gas line explosion traumatized the neighborhood and decimated local businesses. Recently I had the opportunity to stand with five area business owners who shared their stories about the devastating effects on the neighborhood, the crippling effects on their small businesses, and the burdensome bureaucracy that has stalled efforts around reimbursement to stabilize their financial outlook.

It’s staggering that no one paid with their lives in an explosion of this magnitude.  But the true cost is the profit lost by the community.  Together we walked through their shuttered or broken businesses which served as a painful reminder of the true cost of recovery and repair. It’s clear that many local businesses are still suffering from a blast that was the result of negligence.  Meanwhile, PSE has not offered any compensation to these individuals, and hasn’t changed their internal policies that would otherwise create safer conditions for all PSE customers and the surrounding community. If our local businesses continue to struggle or shutter all together under a non-response by PSE, then how can we be sure the company won’t be negligent again?  We need to know the that places we live and work are secure and being monitored; like bridges or oil trains, we defer to the experts to check all the natural gas lines, and determined that they are safe, and will not cause a devastating explosion like the one experienced in Greenwood.

Councilmember Mike O'Brien's Signature  

Media Mentions

Greenwood businesses still reeling from explosion seek ‘justice’ from PSE| KUOW

Take responsibility for explosion, Greenwood business owners tell PSE| My Northwest

PSE hasn’t tracked abandoned gas lines; businesses want utility to pay for Explosion| The Seattle Times

Businesses affected by last year’s natural gas explosion call Puget Sound Energy negligent and call for the utility to accept responsibility| PhinneyWood

Greenwood businesses affected by last year’s gas explosion want PSE to pay| Q13


Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents

September 23rd, 2016

Yesterday in the Human Services and Public Health Committee, Council discussed the “Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents” ordinance, and I’m writing to give an update on the Council deliberations so far. Many of the comments I’ve been hearing in the last few weeks continue to be reflected in the conversation in Committee. Some of the major points of discussion include:

  • The fact that we continue to have people sleeping outdoors is not acceptable. There was widespread consensus that the legislation is not meant to be permanent, but rather reinforce the idea that homelessness should be temporary. While we are working on more stable shelter and housing solutions, we need to figure out how to respond to the population that is sleeping outdoors with nowhere else to go. That’s why I support a sunset clause to the legislation, meaning it will no longer be in effect after a certain period of time.
  • The City can do a better job of transitioning people into permanent housing. The Mayor’s office has recently come out with proposal to create systemic change in the way we respond to homelessness, called Pathways Home. As we explore this further, I look forward to continuing to work with our Human Service Department and service providers to meet the challenges of housing our unsheltered residents. But even the proposed strategies, in the best case scenario, will take 2 years to fully implement. The question remains of what to do in the meantime.
  • While sleeping outdoors is not inherently safe, there are some spaces that pose grave, immediate threats to safety, or places with hazardous conditions, that are not suitable for any period of time. The Committee spent a considerable amount of time defining a categorically “unsuitable” or unsafe location, and it seems like there is agreement that sidewalks, schools, areas near high volumes of traffic, and active spaces in parks, are not suitable. There was also agreement that we need to create the opportunity for community to weigh in on what is unsuitable or unsafe in their specific neighborhoods. And conversely, we need input on where there are suitable spaces for unsheltered residents while we work to transition people into appropriate shelters or housing.
  • Criminal law will continue to be enforced. Nothing in the ordinance prevents the Seattle Police Department from removing or arresting people who they believe are involved in criminal activity.

Thanks to all who have been engaged in trying to help address the ongoing crisis on homelessness. The next Council Committee discussion will be Wednesday, September 28th, at 2pm in City Hall. Please feel free to reach out to my office via email at mike.obrien@seattle.gov, or phone at 206-684-8800 with questions or concerns.

In Community,

Mike


Addressing Effective Strategies Towards Encampments

September 6th, 2016

Since the declaration of the State of Emergency on Homelessness last November, the City has conducted 441 cleanups, or “sweeps” of unsanctioned encampments. Current City protocol provides homeless residents 72 hours’ notice before each cleanup occurs and access to outreach workers to connect to shelter and services. In reality, the notice can be as little as 24 hours, and an outreach worker, if they are able to connect with anyone at all, often does not have available shelters or services for individuals that meet their needs. Physical belongings are misplaced or trashed. An unsheltered person is then left on the sidewalk with nothing and nowhere else to go.

This reality is perhaps the reason why, out of the 441 sweeps conducted since November, 71 unsanctioned encampment sites have had to be repeatedly swept, as people kept coming back. This is perhaps why social service providers in Ballard saw about a 30% increase in foot traffic for their services after a concentrated effort at sweeping unsanctioned encampments in the U-District. In another area of the City, the Wing Luke museum directly attributes the increase in homeless population in the International District to the latest efforts at sweeping the I-5 Duwamish Greenbelt, commonly known as the “Jungle.” The City’s Department of Finance & Administrative Services (FAS) recently reported that in the vast majority of areas from which people are evicted, existing residents or others return almost immediately.

By continuing to conduct sweeps in the same manner, we are expending valuable resources and energy on a strategy that only shifts the problem around and offers a false sense of security for a few people. If our larger goal is to transition individuals and families into permanent housing, then continually displacing them, destabilizing their lives, and compromising relationships and connections to services is not producing the results we need.

About a month ago, I hosted a public forum to hear from community members grappling with public safety and public health challenges in District 6. Almost 200 people attended from all walks of life – ranging from service providers in the District, neighborhood residents, and those living without shelter – to share their thoughts on solutions to these challenges. As attendees talked about encountering needles in their local parks and about other unsanitary conditions as a result of unsheltered people sleeping in public spaces, they proposed solutions to immediately reduce this harm – sharps containers, more public restrooms, garbage pickup, etc., while also advocating for long-term approaches such as more mental health treatment and addiction services, and more housing. I support increased funding for this harm reduction approach, which addresses the immediate public health and safety concerns while allowing us to concentrate our efforts on stabilizing and sheltering as many individuals as possible.

Destabilizing and relocating people without other services or housing to offer works against our harm reduction efforts. That is why I support Council consideration of legislation backed by numerous community organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, and Columbia Legal Services, titled “Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents.” The legislation basically states that if there is not another specific public use for an area, and if we have nowhere else to send someone, we will not remove an unsheltered person from that location. The legislation still allows for, and in some cases requires, cleaning and garbage pickup of public areas. It also allows for the City to remove encampments from unsafe or unsuitable locations, like sidewalks and schools, or other areas with a specific public purpose. This legislation also does not limit the police from enforcing criminal law. The legislation aims to make our engagement with unhoused individuals more efficient and allows them to self-stabilize in the most appropriate spaces available unless those people can be provided a permanent housing solution.

I understand that there have been concerns about this legislation, some of which have been addressed in the most recent version of the ordinance, and have also been discussed at length in other forums. I intend for this legislation to be vetted through the public legislative process in parallel to, and informed by, the Mayor’s Unsanctioned Encampments Cleanup Protocols Task Force. I believe the Mayor and I have similar goals, and by introducing the legislation now, we can best ensure full consideration of our sweeps protocols before the winter months.

I also don’t want to assert that this legislation is a complete solution to the homelessness crisis, as we have long-term needs we must continue to tackle in the face of declining state and federal funding. We need housing that is affordable and accessible, better mental health and substance use services, and an economic system that allows everyone to thrive. But we must continue this long-term work while responding to people without shelter in an effective, humane, and organized way. The Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents legislation, in combination with short-term harm-reduction measures, allows the City to focus efforts on immediate public health and safety needs while eliminating ineffective strategies that only move unhoused people around to different areas.

 


Do No Harm and Do the Most Good

August 12th, 2016

On July 27, in what felt like one of our warmest evenings of the summer, I joined almost 200 neighbors and community members in Ballard to have a conversation about the issues I’ve been hearing most about in recent months – homelessness, property crime, and drug addiction. The Safe and Healthy Communities Public Forum (video available here) was an opportunity for community to come together to give feedback on solutions to these challenges from a public health and public safety perspective.

Before breaking up into small group table discussions, the event kicked off with Assistant Chief Steve Wilske from the Seattle Police Department, Alison Eisinger, Executive Director of the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, and Lisa Daugaard of the Public Defender Association. These speakers helped us to frame the discussion and challenged us to find solutions that would “do no harm”, as Lisa Daugaard stated, and “do the most good,” as Alison Eisinger described.

Similar to what we have heard previously through other community interactions, the concerns of residents’ safety and public health included: more people living outside, public drug consumption and accumulation of used hypodermic needles, vast garbage and human waste accumulation, increased numbers of vehicle living and the limitations of parking, needed bathroom access, disorderly conduct, mental health crises, property crimes including car break-ins, lack of transparency from the City on its investments and work, lack of storage access for people without housing, people inhabiting abandoned houses, accessibility of parks, economic issues including access to jobs, unsafe spaces for bike storage, and sexual harassment on the street.

The following is a list of solutions that were discussed by the residents and community members who attended the forum. This list is not exhaustive of all possible approaches, and many of these types of solutions must work in tandem, but some common themes have emerged. We note the number of tables at which different topics were discussed to give an indication of general interest in the subject, and so attendees can get a sense of what the conversations were like throughout the room.

Immediate Harm Reduction

  • Safe Consumption Sites: Eight of the small groups discussed these medically-supervised facilities designed to reduce public drug use and provide a hygienic and safer environment in which individuals are able to consume drugs, which has the potential to drastically reduce the amounts of drug consumption materials in parks and public spaces, and has the potential to save lives.
  • Public restrooms access: Quite frankly, everyone needs access to a bathroom. Eight of the thirteen groups found that all the neighborhoods in District did not have enough publicly accessibly bathrooms and for both unhoused and housed people, our communities need these spaces.
  • Additional garbage containers: Both housed and unhoused residents have limited access to garbage containers throughout District 6 and the addition of these could likely decrease the amount of trash accumulation in public spaces. Six out of the thirteen tables supported this idea.
  • Garbage Cleanup: Six of the thirteen groups favored the City prioritizing garbage cleanup of areas of people living without homes, without removing people from those spaces.
  • Sharp containers: In conjunction with safe consumption spaces and other public access needs, five groups said that District 6 lacked the necessary sharps disposal containers to decrease the amount of drug consumption materials in public spaces.
  • Better street lighting: Many individuals have felt unsafe navigating public spaces during nighttime hours and one group believed better lighting would increase neighborhood safety.

Access to Services and Shelter

  • Vehicle living: Due to the lack of affordable housing in our region, individuals and families have resorted to alternative methods of living spaces – including the outdoors and vehicles. There have been attempts to address the vehicle living issue through safe parking zones and lots. Unfortunately, the capacity does not meet the need and more safe areas are necessary. Four of the thirteen tables discussed these issues and solutions.
  • Treatment on demand: For individuals who have made the healthcare decision to enter treatment for drug and alcohol consumption, the majority of the tables encouraged the immediate availability for this type of service.
  • Reduce barriers: A range of barriers prevent many different types of people from being able to access shelter and permanent housing, including internal regulations excluding pets, lack of access for people with disabilities, and prohibitions of drug consumption. Two groups discussed removing these barriers.
  • Community neighborhood service center: One group made the suggestion that the City should invest in a singular resource center for the district where people can engage with both police officers, City staff, and service providers.

Role of Law Enforcement

  • Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion: LEAD is a program currently operating in the East and West Precinct, which allows police officers to refer people to community-based treatment and support services instead of making an arrest. Ten out of the thirteen tables discussed bringing LEAD to the North Precinct.
  • Stop displacement of people living without homes: Current city policy directs workers to clean up areas where people are living in outdoor spaces, which is accompanied with outreach services and often removal of people and their belongings. Six of the thirteen groups saw this as wasting resources and favored the City to cease this type of displacement.
  • Rethink parking restrictions: Four of the thirteen tables discussed how parking restrictions like the inability to park from 2am-5am actually “did harm and did not do to the most good”.
  • More micro policing capacity: Most of the groups were aware that police resources were limited because the police have directed much of their attention to homelessness issues. While many of the proposals could deter the need for that specific type of police response, increased micro policing could mean more police officers inside the communities building relationships and having the ability to address other necessary requests including property crimes. Three groups discussed this idea during their conversations.
  • Eliminate outdoor living: One table made the recommendation that the City should be making investments into preventing any outdoor living and vehicle residency.
  • Support a crisis app for SPD: The SPD recently got a federal grant to invest in Code for America, which is an app that provides health details of members of our community that deal with behavioral health issues. One group supported this issue.

Systemic and Large-Scale Solutions

  • Mental health funding: Individuals experiencing behavioral health issues was a highly mentioned topic in the group conversations. Six of the thirteen groups urged drastic increases in mental health funding. And when incidents happen, the public and the individuals engaged need an outlet that isn’t necessarily the police.
  • Affordable and accessible housing: Homelessness continues to rise and the need for affordable housing is also increasing. Three groups suggested that the City and region needs to make more investments into affordable housing that is accessible for all people.
  • Impact fees: Two groups discussed that larger-scale business should pay impact fees to help address many of the public safety and public health issues.

City Process

  • Transparency, communication, and education: The City and our departments managing public safety and public health can streamline communications and make the work transparent to the public. Three groups also believed the City needs to invest in education for both housed and unhoused people about what services are available.

 

The vast majority of comments that I heard from the tables underscores a basic truth: everyone needs support at different moments of their life – and that support happens through different methods, including family, friends, faith-based organizations, and government and community resources. Many people suggested that providing that support, and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable, will actually increase the health and safety of all of our communities. It continues to be a huge challenge for us, as some of the issues we have discussed are a result of the continual decline of state and federal funding for support services. For example, Washington state ranked as 48th worst in prevalence of mental illness and lowest rates of access to care. Nevertheless, I heard a sense of urgency from this group to explore how the City could take a leadership role in providing mental health treatment and other large-scale solutions.

As for specific next steps, I will use this feedback to develop budget proposals and projects, in cooperation with my colleagues on Council, that reflect the priorities I heard that evening, and what I’ve been hearing from many of you in different forums these past few months. I hope to have a follow-up event that delves into these proposed solutions and more as we go into our budget season this Fall, and present specific budget tradeoffs for community input.  We will follow up with you shortly with a date and location for an event in late September. In the meantime, we will be in touch over email and on our blog as we solidify our ideas, hear from more experts on homelessness, and endeavor to be as transparent as possible in our approach.

Thank you for engaging in this conversation with me.

 

In Community,

Mike


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