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 This website is for archival purposes only and is no longer updated.

Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents

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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, or phone at 206-684-8800 with questions or concerns.

In Community,



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Comment from Eric R
Time October 7, 2016 at 11:51 am

This has to be one of the most tone-deaf propositions I’ve ever seen. I live in lower Ballard and am worried about walking the streets at night. I don’t care what your far-left echo chamber of focus groups, donor dinners, and city politics is telling you- this will absolutely enrage the silent majority in your district. MOST of us pay ridiculous rent or property taxes to keep a legitimate roof over our heads. We get it, Seattle’s expensive, and we have sympathy for those who have fallen on hard times, but this is ridiculous. Even those of us who, like myself, consider ourselves largely progressive realize this is a huge mistake. Whatever boundaries you “say” will be in place to keep this from getting out of hand will quickly prove ineffective and toothless. SPD is already ignoring the illegal encampments, aggressive behavior, drug use/abuse, and property crimes erupting from this situation. You think they’re going to care AT ALL once their hands are even more tied? You think the people causing problems are going to play nice when they’re even more emboldened and entitled? Insane.

I’m not a policy expert, just a voter and taxpayer, like most of your constituents. I’m telling you the optics of this are god-awful. No amount of advertising or liberal buzzwords will wash the stain off come voting time. I don’t have a silver bullet solution, but I would much rather see SPD freed to enforce existing LAW and existing service organizations get the police presence and support they need to help those who want it. Then let SPD deal with the criminals, not hapless unarmed parks employees and regular citizens.

Comment from Linda Taggart
Time October 8, 2016 at 1:58 pm

I am completely against the mayors attempts to evict the jungle and for the plan to allow the homeless to use the parks etc. If the city can’t come up with a safe alternative, the homeless should be allowed to camp in parks until viable housing arrangements are made for them. We cannot continue to have thousands of people living in tents and cars and if people don’t like them living in parks, maybe that will pressure the gov. to provide real housing alternatives.

Comment from Elizabeth Lyons
Time October 11, 2016 at 11:10 am

Thanks, Mike. We had a drug situation in a house we own in Newport, Or, across the street from a Montessori School, in which we were helpful to a family with no income and let them use the home for several months, through the Christmas holiday. The family broke up, the man, a heroin user, had a drug, gun and bomb sale, and is now in federal prison. We learned the hard way, that IT IS NOT OUR JOB to enable illegal and unsafe behavior. The city’s job is to promote civilization, not to promote uncivilized behavior. Behavior like this, we learned, should not be tolerated, even by liberal and understanding people like ourselves. Allowing this kind of camping is allowing uncivilized behavior in many instances, (not all, of course) including drug use, drug sale, etc. It enables those people to continue their addiction to not have to pay rent or behave in a civilized manner. Ultimately, it is the drug or alcohol users job to find treatment and live in a healthy way, not our job to do it for them. Though love may help get the treatment started.

Comment from Heather
Time October 11, 2016 at 12:46 pm

If it is unacceptable to have citizens sleeping unsheltered in your initial point, why is there a need for this legislation at all? Sleeping out of doors is unsafe for our citizens. Propose meaningful pathways to ending homelessness without unnecessarily burdening our parks and public spaces.

Comment from Mark Russo
Time October 12, 2016 at 10:54 am

Please vote NO on legislation that would give homeless people the legal right to camp on public lands, including our parks. This legislation would do nothing to solve homelessness, but it would create a myriad of new problems and would cause our City to be much less livable.

I want our city to solve homelessness and I think that the Pathways Home measure is a much better approach. Instead we seem to be following Portland’s failed approach allowing camping on our city sidewalks, parks and public spaces.

Specifically, we already see some of these problems at Interbay: needles, garbage, human waste in a city park used by kids for soccer, baseball, football and other activities.

This legislation would lead to public safety problems and public health problems. It would be a giveaway of our public lands to a few people. We already do not have enough parks for our growing population.

Our City parks belong to all citizens, not just the homeless. Our City parks already suffer from deferred maintenance, which was part of the argument used to pass the Metropolitan Parks District. The City Council is supposed to run the Metropolitan Parks District for the benefit of all citizens. This legislation would cause severe damage to our parks that would require substantial funds to repair, and would make many parks too dangerous to be used by ordinary citizens.

Comment from Betsy
Time October 12, 2016 at 11:01 pm

I am very concerned about homelessness in our city. I am a lifelong resident of Seattle. Born and raised here. I have worked in mental health/behavioral health for 40 years. Here are my concerns. I see the growing numbers of homeless people. Housing is too expensive and rules prevent many homeless from accessing housing. I support barrier free housing. I even support tent cities in places where sanitation facilities can be accessible or set up (toilets, showers,). I see these camps even housing single or small groups of people and they are filled with garbage and I know human waste needles etc that are a risk to humans. I know it is difficult to control. One thing I absolutely do not want is camping in our city parks I am a walker. If you allow people to camp in parks I and many others will not be able to feel safe walking the trails in our parks and I am not a fearful person. I see you refer to not allowing camping in active areas of our parks. What about the trails in Carkeek or Discovery Park? Don’t destroy nature. As we become more densely populated the citizens need parks that are a place for respite and exercise, etc. Thanks

Comment from Scott Strickland
Time October 13, 2016 at 2:48 pm

Allowing trespass on city property in our neighborhoods by criminal elements is not the answer. Look at other cities-Honolulu and Portland. Take the bid increase in tax money from all the new buildings and set some aside to build shelters. This ordinance is ill conceived on many fundamental premises. Vote against it. What are you thinking! You will be destroying the very fabric of this city on your watch. We support the Union Gospel Mission!

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