Councilmember O'Brien left office on December 31, 2019. This website is for archival purposes only and is no longer updated.

Addressing Effective Strategies Towards Encampments

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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.



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Comment from Taylor Seeberger
Time September 9, 2016 at 12:12 pm

Would that be the forum where most attendees complained that you and your team… A) Censored discussion and steered it towards Mike’s established agenda (aka LEAD). B) Didn’t accurately report the concerns shared by most citizens and the problems they saw with the feasibility of his “solutions”.

Mike is “the man without a plan”. He is simply a modern day Quixote, out to fight the corporate windmills of the world, armed with your tax dollars.

How can they even put the word sustainable in the title of the legislation? Considering his support (aka “ram-rodding”) of Pronto, maybe he doesn’t understand the definition?

But don’t worry District 6, Mike feels your pain, HIS BIKE WAS STOLEN FOR GOD’S SAKE!!! What an arrogant, out of touch dufus.

Comment from Chad Osborn
Time September 9, 2016 at 1:40 pm


You were elected as a representative of District 6. Unfortunately for us you have made a decision not to represent the interests of your district. You have been carrying on in a manner that may have been appropriate for someone that was elected city wide.

We have heard nothing from you regarding the threats, assaults, and generally unsafe environment that has developed in central Ballard the past summer. It astounds me that you are acting as the lead on an ordinance that will give problematic individuals the right to remain between 48 hours and thirty days in public spaces. I have read the ordinance and as written there is no doubt that it gives individuals the right to camp in our parks and public spaces.

I would also like to point out that you are one of the proponents of densifying Ballard, and in some cases extreme densification (Pod apartments). One of the most important factors in making densification work in terms of delivering a good quality of life is the provision of interesting and most importantly safe public spaces and parks. The ordinance you are pushing will essentially make the parks and public spaces no go zones for many individuals in the community.

It is time that you start representing District 6. You seem to have adopted a very dismissive attitude with regards to the legitimate concerns of your constituents. A District representative is supposed to be an individual that will work with their community not someone that the community has to work against.

Comment from Carl Deuker
Time September 9, 2016 at 3:37 pm

Mike, I’ve lived in Ballard for 35 years. When the Ballard Commons came into being, it was the first time we had a central park where kids and adults could enjoy the sun. We still have the least amount of park space in the city. And now you’re going to let drug addicts camp out? Give me a break. A few final comments. The homeless that are interested in rehab or job training or any constructive steps–great, help them out, I’ll gladly pay. But the homeless who are interested in heroin/alcohol/meth/ living in the park and thumbing their nose at the rest of us who pay for them. Fed up. Been there, done that. Don’t want to hear “Service Resistant” ever again. It’s called crime in other cities. And could we please cut the nonsense about separating homeless people from their dogs. Many, many of us lived in apartments and still live in apartments THAT WE PAY RENT FOR that don’t allow pets. Get some common sense before you destroy our city and the tax base that pays for all you and all your aides. Finally, and for about the millionth time, do you ever consider how much money from Seattle makes its way into the hands of Mexican drug cartels? Don’t we have a heroin footprint just as much as a carbon footprint? It’s immoral to ignore this.

Comment from Aden Nardone
Time September 9, 2016 at 7:04 pm

Do not pass this. You have not provided any financial impact associated with this proposed legislation. How many people will you need to hire in the Office of Civil Rights to process these claims? How much will the claims cost? How many times can people make a claim? How much is the trash pick up going to cost? That is, if you ever decide to allow trash pick up. And we all know that you will come back year and year again asking for more money to finance this debacle because there is no low income affordable housing in Seattle. Put your energy into low income housing development and helping people that warrant housing assistance. Of course, we could just close up the Parks department and those employees could go under the public utilities budget to do the maid service for the campers in our public places.

Comment from Tina Kliman
Time September 19, 2016 at 9:04 pm

Living in Seattle has come to an all time low for my family. If my husband’s job would allow for us to move we would of have moved months ago.

Traffic is unbearable. It frequently takes 35 minutes to drive 5 miles. Aside from the lack of mass transit, other city wide decisions are only adding to the gridlock. More bike lanes instead of lanes for vehicles. What was the thought behind that expense? How many people does that benefit? Another simple example, the Ballard and Fremont bridge often rise during the 6pm hour, causing miles of back up for One recreational boat to pass.

Our public schools do not have enough funds yet we are throwing money at what seems to be ineffective transportation measures. The latest idea of reducing the speed limit in certain areas and paying $200-$300 per sign. Can folks even drive over the speed limit? Anywhere I go is gridlock. Maybe just add a few more signs in troubled areas rather than take on unnecessary expense.

Today I awoke once again to an RV outside my house. The police informed me they couldn’t do anything until the car was parked there for 72 hours. The worst part is the people in the vehicle are drug addicts. Just what I want around my children.

The drug issue and homeless issue is out of control. And now you are supporting a measure where they can sleep in any public space they want. Do you have the stats on the health of the homeless? How many are addicts? How many suffer from mental illness? I am all about helping those who need help, who can benefit from help. But only if they want help and the measure is really going to solve the problem. This is not going to solve the problem. And we won’t be safe in our own parks.

It seems the city isn’t addressing issues with long term fair solutions. The only winners in the city are the very rich and the very poor. The hardworking people I know who pay the majority of taxes are not receiving any benefits. They have to work 60 hours a week so they can provide a good life for their families. Many still have to send their children to schools with their own array of problems – under funding, unsupported teachers, behavioral issues interrupting from the real reason kids are in school- to learn. Aren’t these children the future of our city? Shouldn’t we be focusing on real solutions to provide a better tomorrow for them. Is it true that more money is allocated to an individual homeless adult than to the education of a child? Do you ever feel the city spends money recklessly? Doesn’t prioritize spending for long term benefits. I’m sure it’s a tough job but please start putting the masses before the few. Please start investing now for a better future for us. And listen to those if your district. We do not want more homeless sleeping in public spaces!

Comment from Kevin
Time September 20, 2016 at 10:25 am

Mike there are 100,000 that live in your district. Why don’t you care about them at all? There are no suitable outdoor areas for camping, which is illegal.

Comment from Elisabeth
Time September 21, 2016 at 8:49 pm

The vast majority of the homeless in Seattle are here because the City allows it. Having a close family member involved in addiction, I was repeatedly told the person needed to reach rock bottom. This often means legal consequences, but the new proposal postpones that. In fact, the promises of damages of up to $250 per day will only bring more to cash in.

Comment from Laura Wharton
Time October 7, 2016 at 5:28 pm

I’m shocked and disgusted by the proposed legislation that would allow homeless encampments in city Parks and require up to 30 days to remove campers. This would throw out years of thoughtful legislation designed to provide parks for all people and especially safe spaces for children and families to find recreation. The sanitation and safety for both campers and others will be compromised. Please listen to your constituents and eliminate this terrible legislation.

Comment from Heather
Time October 11, 2016 at 1:23 pm

I am horrified by the proposed legislation and my councilman. This is an extremely expensive and dangerous piece of legislation. Can we not learn from Portland’s errors? Sweeps are not destabilizing people, the unsheltered are already destabilized. We have a moral obligation not to allow homelessness to be re-branded as a stable situation. Sweeps drive people toward services that help achieve that stabilization. If the services are inadequate to deal with the homeless population, they should be shored up. This is being sold as a compassionate measure, in reality, it is merely complaisant.

Comment from Rebecca Salinas
Time October 14, 2016 at 3:10 pm

As someone who has worked with homeless adults and youth, although the thinking behind your proposed legislation is well-intentioned, enabling is not advocacy. Limiting choices for people who are unable to make good decisions for themselves is more humane. I have been saddened when I have frequently watched individuals’ physical and mental health deteriorate over time because of their “right” to live as they choose. Not having permanent housing is a deterrent to entering treatment. Housing First!! Your plan, though slightly revised, will not work any better than it did in Portland. It is a bandaid approach which does not address the dysfunctional systems nor the core reasons people are homeless. And the likelihood is high that it will increase the number of individuals coming to Seattle who are homeless.

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