One In Five “Illegal Dumping” Reports Recategorized as Illegal Camping, Triggering Navigation Team Visits

Next time you file a report for illegal trash dumping through the city’s Find It, Fix It system, look around: If there happens to be a homeless encampment or RV nearby, the vicinity, the city is likely to recategorize your report as “unauthorized camping” and send in the Navigation Team to investigate—and potentially remove the encampment, The C Is for Crank has learned. This is true even if the items you reported were not left there by unsheltered people, a common phenomenon that Seattle Public Utilities refers to as “opportunistic dumping.”

Ordinarily, SPU responds to reports of illegal dumping by going out to a site within 10 days of the initial report and, when appropriate, removing the trash. But in about  one out of every five cases, they refer the report to the Navigation Team, which is responsible for removing unauthorized encampments, the city’s department of Finance and Administrative Services confirms.

“I reported needles on the street and rather obvious drug dealing, and attached a picture of the street which included a shabby RV,” one FiFi user, Emily Spahn, told me. “A few days later, I got an email telling me they forwarded the issue to the police department, with ‘Subject: SPD – Car camping.’ That was a surprise, since this was in an area that allows for RV parking.”

The same thing happened to another Seattle resident named Sean Roulette-Miller, who posted about the recategorization on Twitter. “I have never seen any encampment on this property so it seems like a waste of resources,” Roulette-Miller told me.

Cyndi Wilder, a spokeswoman for FAS (which oversees the Find It, Fix It program) says that whenever SPU determines that an illegally dumped item or items is “part of or near an encampment,” they “assume” that “the items in the report might be the personal belongings of unsheltered individuals. Because illegal dumping inspectors cannot remove personal belongings that may be part of or near an encampment, in these cases SPU transfers the report to the Customer Service Bureau (CSB), who then forwards the report to the Navigation Team for an encampment inspection, as the Navigation Team has the training and resources to identify and store personal belongings.”

Of all illegal dumping reports the city receives, Wilder says 19 percent are routed to the Navigation Team. “Some illegal dumping calls intersect with the Navigation Team’s work to remove unsafe encampments and break down barriers by providing storage for personal possessions.”

The Navigation Team has the authority to remove encampments that it considers “obstructions” or “hazards” without providing notice, outreach, or offers of shelter. In recent months, under Mayor Jenny Durkan, the team has begun to focus primarily on removing “obstruction” encampments, a definition justified in the team’s weekly reports by, among other criteria, “large amounts of garbage.”

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Who Said It? A Quiz from Last Night’s GOP-Sponsored Homelessness Forum

In a bit of kismet (or misfortune?) so perfect it almost seemed planned, the 43rd District Democrats held their primary-election endorsement meeting last night at Kane Hall on the UW campus—right next to a forum sponsored by the 36th District Republicans titled “HOMELESS & ADDICTED IN SEATTLE.” (Two Democrats I talked to in the foyer outside both events referred to the panel as “the hate group meeting” and “the Klan rally,” respectively).

The 43rd’s endorsements were uneventful (no candidate reached the 60% threshold for endorsement in Districts 3, 4, 6, or 7—the four districts that partially overlap with the 43rd), so I spent my night popping back and forth between the Democrats and the Republicans, whose security guards eventually stopped checking my backpack every time I returned.

The panel brought together two AM radio hosts, a police union leader and SWAT team offcer, the founder of Safe Seattle, a former Republican state legislator who now leads the Family Policy Institute of Washington, the program manager for Christian shelter provider Union Gospel Mission, and several others, to spend three hours agreeing at length about what causes homelessness and how to fix it. (In the panel’s apparently unanimous view, addiction, specifically heroin addiction, is the main root cause of homelessness, and the fix consists of tough-love “solutions” like forced treatment and making it “more uncomfortable to stay addicted,” as one panelist put it.)

It would have been a perfect echo chamber, if not for the presence of a few hecklers  (quickly ejected), plus a handful of folks who stuck around to ask questions that challenged the unanimous tough-love narrative of the panel (quickly shouted down). I find echo chambers exhausting (witness, on the other end of the spectrum, my extreme reluctance to cover council member Kshama Sawant’s endless “PACK CITY HALL” rallies), so instead, I’ve gathered a few quotes from last night’s panel into a little quiz.

See if you can guess which speaker from this list made each of the following statements (answers below the jump).

1. “You can’t have a relationship [with a homeless client] when you’re a social worker. My ex-wife is a social worker…. There’s no relationship.”

2. “Take the ties off of the hands of our brave men and women who are officers and allow them to do their jobs.”

3. “[There are t]hose who are advocating for giving more and more and more money and more and more services to people that aren’t taking any responsibility, and that is called enabling.”

4. “I don’t like doing my job anymore.”

5. “That question is a setup! I’m not going to tell him!”

6. “If you want to have a conversation with a bunch of experts, you can organize your own panel.”

7. “There is no homelessness in South Korea, in Japan, because they have a culture of family, of focusing on virtue. … If you have a culture that’s broken… you have evil, you have drugs, you have no accountability.”

8. “I’ve worked with hundreds of homeless people over 15 years. I have dozens of friends who have been homeless. The majority of those dozens of friends are not addicts.”

9. “Third and Pike, the downtown market, is the largest criminal organization for shoplifting in this country.”

10. “I think we have to stop calling it homelessness. I think we have to start addressing it as addiction.”

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Morning Crank: Bike Plan Scaled Back, Meinert Buys Mecca, and a Few Questions About the Mayor’s Junk RV Crackdown

Healthy skepticism: The gray blobs are “study areas” where bike lanes may one day go, if funding materializes and politics allow.

1. Last week, the Seattle Department of Transportation released an update to the city’s Bicycle Master Plan Implementation Plan that—as I reported on Wednesday—attempts to address complaints from bike advocates by committing to “study” several routes in South Seattle (along Beacon Ave. S., Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., and between downtown Seattle and Georgetown) that were omitted in a draft version of the plan released earlier this year. Those projects, according to the update, may be built at some point in the future, if unspecified “additional funding” becomes available, perhaps in the form of also-unspecified “new grants and partnership opportunities.” (Bike advocates, as you might imagine, aren’t holding their breath.)

In addition to identifying those “study areas,” the updated plan still gets rid of miles of long-planned protected bike lanes, pushes other bike projects back several years or indefinitely, and eliminates about a dozen projects that were in the most recent update, back in 2017. And it replaces an already delayed two-way protected bike lane on the east side of Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle with a one-way northbound lane on the west side of the street—another setback for a project that was supposed to open last year but which was delayed until 2021 on the grounds that a two-way bike lane might slow down transit on Fourth Ave. during the “period of maximum constraint.” (The report now cites “parking impacts” as a reason for the latest change).

Some other changes since the last version of the plan include:

• A 1.27-mile “safe routes to school” neighborhood greenway to the Orca K-8 school in Southeast Seattle that was identified as “low risk” and scheduled for completion in 2021 is now listed as “TBD”;

• The two-mile North Admiral Connection in West Seattle, which had been removed in the earlier version of the plan, is now back and in the “planning phase,” with a “TBD” completion date.

• Two center-city projects—a quarter mile of protected bike lane on 9th Ave. and a quarter-mile “south end connection” to the Center City bike network in Pioneer Square—will be completed this year, a year ahead of the schedule in the earlier plan.

• Two projects on Capitol Hill—a 0.8-mile stretch of neighborhood greenway (plus 0.1 miles of protected bike lane) along Melrose Ave. and a 0.8-mile stretch of protected bike lane along Union —are now scheduled to open in 2021, a year after the draft version of the plan said they would be finished.

• A half-mile “interim” protected bike lane on 8th Ave. downtown, which was scheduled to open this year, is now listed as a “permanent” PBL that will open in 2023.

• A 0.6-mile safe routes to school connection to Stevens Elementary School on Capitol Hill that was scheduled to open in 2020 is now listed as “TBD,” with 10 percent of the design completed.

• The 1.4-mile Missing Link of the  Burke-Gilman Trail, which has been delayed forever by lawsuits from industrial businesses in Ballard, has been divided into three segments, the last of which is now scheduled for completion in 2021, rather than 2020.

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County: Widely Reported Data Point in “Prolific Offenders” Report Was Wrong

Earlier this year, Scott Lindsay—a former adviser to Ed Murray who unsuccessfully challenged city attorney Pete Holmes in the 2017 election—published a report in collaboration with the Downtown Seattle Association and other downtown groups called “System Failure.” The report, which was featured prominently in the viral KOMO 4 special “Seattle Is Dying,” highlighted 100 so-called “prolific offenders,” including 87 who had been arrested in Seattle more than four times in a 12-month period and another 13 who Lindsay felt had “a particularly high impact on public safety,” as SCC Insight reported.

The report included one particularly startling statistic: More than 30 percent of the time, “prolific offenders” were released from King County jail onto the streets at midnight, when social services and shelter are unavailable. “For homeless individuals struggling with substance use disorders and mental health conditions, this practice can be hazardous to the individual and to the immediate surrounding neighborhood,” Lindsay reported. The statistic was reported by most major local outlets, including Crosscut, KING 5,  and the Seattle Times, which said the practice “put[s] at risk those who are homeless and struggling with substance-abuse disorders and mental conditions.”

“It’s not up to  me to correct publicly the inaccuracy of the information they’re making public.”—Consultant Tim Ceis, who worked on the “System Failure” report

The real number of people being released from King County jail onto the streets at midnight, according to the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention? Zero.

“We researched the past year and determined that no inmate was released out of custody from DAJD facilities at midnight,” says Captain Captain Lisaye Manning, a spokeswoman for the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. “The terminology of ‘released’ refers to being released from the King County Jail and transferred custody to a different agency, not released out of custody to the streets. There are some occasions that those outside agencies aren’t available until late evening or early morning hours.”

Screen shot from “System Failure” Report

 

Manning said Lindsay and his fellow researchers should have used the county’s public booking database to determine when and why people were released from custody (and to whom). Instead, Lindsay apparently used used the county’s Jail Inmate Lookup System, a blunter instrument intended to help people look up information about specific inmates. That system does not specify the reason an inmate was released or whether he or she was released into the custody of another agency.

“The Executive’s Office conveyed to the report’s author, Scott Lindsay, that he did not use correct data in his evaluation,” Capt. Manning says.

Alex  Fryer, a spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine, confirms that Constantine’s office told a consultant who helped Lindsay on the report, Tim Ceis, that the information in the report was wrong. DADJ provided The C Is for Crank with a link to what Fryer calls “the correct database, showing that we’re not putting people out on the streets of Seattle” at midnight. Fryer adds that Lindsay’s error was understandable, given that the jail list is the county’s public-facing database of inmate information. Ceis confirms that the county did inform him and Lindsay “that the information that we were seeing was inaccurate, for whatever reason,” but says he saw no reason to correct the record, since the errors, in his opinion, were the county’s.

“Their record-keeping and what they were putting out there in the jail records was not accurate,” Ceis says.  “It’s not up to  me to correct publicly the inaccuracy of the information they’re making public.”

Lindsay responded at 5:30 this evening to an email I sent three hours earlier. However, his response did not include answers to my questions about the apparent data discrepancy. I have sent him a more detailed list of questions and will update this post if I hear back.

Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, who has said that the “System Failure” report should have been called “Systems Failure,” to emphasize that the justice system is not the only system failing chronically homeless people, says that if the county isn’t releasing people onto the streets at midnight, that’s a welcome change from something that “has been a problem in years past.”

Daugaard says that if the county isn’t, in fact, releasing prolific offenders into downtown Seattle at midnight, that just “underscores my feeling about the takeaways from the report —it’s less that the criminal justice system is failing, as that the criminal justice system, operating in the ways it inevitably does, is not the right system to address these problems, except at the margins and when other systems”—such as health care and housing—”have gaps.” Why, Daugaard asks rhetorically, “is this group [of “prolific offenders”] not prioritized in the large investments that have been made in each of those systems in recent years?”

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100 Officers Trained to Implement Anti-Camping Rules as Navigation Team Expands to 7-Day Schedule

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office has confirmed that the city has trained about 100 members of the Seattle Police Department’s Community Policing Team (CPT) and bicycle patrol officers on how to implement and enforce the rules against unauthorized “camping” in public spaces, such as sidewalks, parks, and publicly owned property. The city recently expanded the Navigation Team to include two new field coordinators overseeing encampment removals and two new outreach workers, who will do outreach work previously performed by the nonprofit REACH, which is no longer participating in encampment removals.

“The CPT and bike officers have been trained to implement the existing [Multi Departmental Administrative Rules], which lay out when and how encampments can be removed), the encampment rules, and how to connect with the Nav Team,” Durkan spokesman Mark Prentice says. “People can remain in the public right of way but belongings that are obstructing… ‘pedestrian or transportation purposes of public rights-of-way’ are not allowed, which is why a Navigation Team member will be available to offer storage and/or services. … This additional effort by CPT and bike officers does not impact or change the MDAR or the City’s compliance with these rules.”

Perhaps unintentionally, the Navigation Team no longer creates a list of “weekly unauthorized encampment removals”; instead, the most recent version of this document refers to these removals as “relocations.”

Under Durkan, as I reported last month, the Navigation Team has shifted its emphasis and now focuses on removing tents and belongings that constitute an “obstruction” under the city’s rules. Once an encampment is deemed an “obstruction,” the Navigation Team can remove it without notifying residents or offering them shelter or services. Although, in practice, officers often do tell residents who happen to be around during these unannounced removals about available shelter beds, outreach workers and unsheltered people have told me that they’re less likely to trust uniformed police officers than social service workers who show up between removals and get to know them outside the charged environment of a sweep.

Empowering another 100 or so police officers to enforce the rules against camping will undoubtedly expand the city’s ability to remove unauthorized encampments without notice, but it’s unclear what the long game is here, or if there is one.

The original goal of the Navigation Team, when it was created as part of the city’s response to the homelessness emergency back in 2017, was to “work… with unsheltered people who have urgent and acute unmet needs,” by building  relationships with people living outdoors and convincing them to come inside (ideally, to new low-barrier, 24/7 shelters with case management and services). Today, the team still offers referrals to shelter and services, but much of their work involves removing encampments, cleaning up sites, and watching people move back in over a matter of days or weeks—a tedious process of, yes, sweeping people from one place into another in a seemingly endless cycle. (Perhaps unintentionally, the Navigation Team no longer creates a list of “weekly unauthorized encampment removals”; instead, the most recent version of this document refers to these removals as “relocations.”)

Since 2017, the Navigation Team has nearly doubled in size, from 22 to 38 members. In that time, the number of contracted outreach workers has stayed the same, while the number of police, management, and support staff has grown dramatically. (Currently, in addition to 13 police officers, the team includes three data analysts, one team lead, one encampment response manager, one outreach supervisor, one communications manager, an administrative specialist, and an operations manager). Empowering another 100 or so police officers to enforce the rules against camping will undoubtedly expand the city’s ability to remove unauthorized encampments without notice, but it’s unclear what the long game is here, or if there is one. The city has added some new shelter beds (including 160 mats in the lobby of city hall, which are accessible for just 8 hours a night and don’t include showers, food, or services), but nowhere near enough to meet the need. Last year, according to the latest Point In Time Count of people living unsheltered in King County, the number of people living in tents rose from 1,034 to 1,162 even as the count of people living unsheltered shrunk.

I scrambled back up the path, stumbling a bit on my way back to the accessible, level, and totally empty park. I can’t imagine whose “pedestrian and transportation purposes” anyone living in those brambles could possibly be obstructing.

This week (over the newly expanded seven-day Navigation Team schedule), 13 encampments are on the list for “relocation.” All but one have been deemed “obstructions” exempt from the notice and outreach requirements.

Over the weekend, I visited a couple of encampments. One had just been visited by the Navigation Team, which hauled away a dump truck full of refuse, including soiled clothing, food wrappers, and large items dumped on the site by people from outside the camp. At the base of the hillside where people had set up their tents, there were still piles of loose trash and scattered needles, along with several full purple garbage bags provided through a pilot city trash pickup program.

The second encampment was one that’s scheduled for removal as an “obstruction” next week. The site was in a lightly forested area along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., on the edge of an underused park that offers stunning views of downtown Seattle. I looked for the “large amounts of garbage, debris, and human waste” that the Navigation Team said were present at the site. It wasn’t easy to find signs of human habitation—from the park, the only way to access the place where people were living was by scrambling down a steep dirt hillside, or by bushwhacking through brambles and weeds to find a series of primitive trails. Eventually, I saw a beach umbrella, a mattress pad, and a few small piles of trash (but no human waste) that hinted that the area might be inhabited. I scrambled back up the path, stumbling a bit on my way back to the accessible, level, and totally empty park. I can’t imagine whose “pedestrian and transportation purposes” anyone living in those brambles could possibly be obstructing.

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Hey there! Just a quick reminder that this entire site, including the post you’re reading, is supported by generous contributions from readers like you, without which this site would quite literally cease to exist. If you enjoy reading The C Is for Crank and would like to keep it going, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter. For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is my full-time job. Help keep that work sustainable by becoming a supporter now! If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

“We Have to Give Them Discipline,” and Other Things I Heard Moderating Three Council Candidate Forums

As I mentioned on Twitter last week, I wasn’t able to live tweet from three of the MASS Coalition-sponsored candidate forums (for city council districts 2, 4, and 7) because I was moderating them. However, I did make sure to record each forum so that folks who didn’t attend (and those who don’t have time to watch all three when the videos become available on Youtube) could catch some of the highlights.

This is absolutely not a definitive guide to where the 24 candidates who showed up for these three forums (out  stand on transportation and housing issues. Instead, it’s a selection of quotes that jumped out at me as I was moderating these forums, which give a flavor of where some of these candidates stand on a long list of questions that ranged from how they’ve tackled racial inequity to how they would address traffic violence, homelessness, and whether solowheels should be allowed in bike lanes (OK, that one was just District 4 candidate Frank Krueger).

The quotes I’ve chosen to highlight are ones that were unique in some way, either for their specificity, the fact that they made a candidate stand out in a group of candidates whose answers were all similar to one another’s, or because they suggested unique solutions to problems that every candidate in every race is grappling with. (In some cases, the answers that stood out did so because they were were off point or outrageous in some way, as you’ll see). The responses in these transcripts have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

For detailed information on each candidate, I suggest you visit their websites, which are all available on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission website.

District 2 (Southeast Seattle)

“I oppose redevelopment or privatization of Jefferson Golf Course. It’s part of our fabric and we need to keep it.” – Mark Solomon, running in District 2

Ari Hoffman, in response to a question about how to house people with barriers to traditional housing, such as mental illness, disabilities, or substance use disorders:

“If you look at what happened with Licton Springs and a lot of the other low-barrier encampments,  the problem is that we weren’t treating the problems. We’re allowing them to come in, bringing their problems with them. We’re not assigning them social workers, we’re not making sure that treatment’s available. If you just just bring them into housing, you’re going to have the exact same problems that they had without housing. I know this from my own personal experience with my family: If you just give them everything, that’s enabling behavior. We need to make sure that they have the treatment they need, and that they have a support system they need.”

Tammy Morales, in response to the same question:

Image result for tammy morales seattle“For those who are chronically homeless,  providing treatment and services to those people is not giving them everything. It’s actually treating some of the issues that they have, and we need to do more of that i we’re really going to talk about transitioning folks into housing that they can stabilize in. And we do that by expanding the LEAD program, which is proven to be effective at helping people get into housing permanently. The navigation teams that we have are a waste of money. It’s unconstitutional, it’s not effective, and it wastes taxpayer dollars.”

Mark Solomon, responding to a question about protecting and expanding green spaces in the South End:

“The last thing we should be doing is removing the green space that we have in our community already. I oppose redevelopment or privatization of Jefferson Golf Course. There are a lot of trees, a lot of open space. and it’s community asset. It’s part of our fabric and we need to keep it.”

Chris Peguero, on the need for safe and accessible bike facilities:

We have a Bike Master Plan, and we need to build it. I [am concerned about] the expense of building protected lanes. I think we need them, but how do we build them? There was a dramatic number that came out about how expensive it was per mile. But if there’s a better way to do that is less expensive [we should do that]..The other concern that I have is making sure that bikes are accessible to all families. I think for the most part, communities of color oftentimes don’t think of bikes as an option. Bike cultures are often very white and male. So how do we build that access?”

District 4

“[Queen Anne and Wallingford] are what they are today because of the zoning that it existed before the mandatory downzone in 1957.” – Sasha Anderson, running in District 4

Cathy Tuttle, on strategic sidewalk construction:

Image result for cathy tuttle seattle city council“About 27 percent of Seattle streets do not have sidewalks. And the reason that we can only afford to put in about 10 blocks of sidewalks a year is that they cost so much. They cost about $300,000 per block face. That means close to half a million or sometimes $1 million per block. I think that there’s a role for home zones— streets without sidewalks where we can slow streets down, where cars are guests. I see sidewalks is having a lot of embedded carbon and a lot of stormwater impact. I don’t think we need sidewalks everywhere. We need them some places. Certainly with safe routes to school, safe routes for seniors. But  there are a lot of places where sidewalks are not the answer.”

Sasha Anderson, on the need to upzone single-family neighborhoods:

“In 1957, there was a mandatory downzone in Seattle. Before that, some of our most desirable and livable neighborhoods —Queen Anne and Wallingford, which are spoken about in the Neighborhoods for All report, were a beautiful mix of single-family houses, triplexes, duplexes, multiple houses on one lot, and it worked. Those neighborhoods are what they are today because of the zoning that it existed before the mandatory downzone in 1957. I think this is so important to bring up because it just shows that we already know this type of zoning works. It is not something that is scary. It is something that makes neighborhood livable, affordable, and provides easy access to transit, and it’s something that we should return to.”

Shaun Scott, on the need for progressive taxes at the city level:

Image result for shaun scott seattle

“I’d like to see a retooled employee head tax. I would like to see the city use a real estate speculation tax, I would like to see congestion pricing. I would like to see the city dip into its bonding capacity, because long-term fiscal solvency is not really going to be worth much where we’re headed at this rate, and I’d rather have a planet that we can live on in 40 years as opposed to a credit rating that we cannot use it because the world is literally on fire.”

Joshua Newman, on the city’s policy of moving encampments from place to place:

“Fundamentally, people are living in tent encampments because they have nowhere else to go, and chasing them around to somewhere else  is just throwing good money after bad. But it’s also not compassionate to just allow our neighbors to continue to live under the freeway and people’s porches and on the side of the road. So in the near term, we need to establish FEMA- style tent camps like we do after natural disasters. And I think we need to establish them in each of the seven [council] districts around the city. After that we can start working on more permanent solutions such as the tiny homes, additional mental support, etc.”

District 7

“When I drive, nothing infuriates me more than when there’s a biker in front of me and they’re not in the bike lane.”—Daniela Lipscomb-Eng, running in District 7

Andrew Lewis, on the need to replace the Magnolia Bridge at a cost of up to $420 million (which all nine candidates who showed up for the District 7 debate supported):

“A big part of shaping the neighborhood of Magnolia is going to be maintaining that essential connection to the rest of the city. The Magnolia Bridge serves 265 Metro buses every day, it’s the biggest mass transit connection that Magnolia has to the rest of the city. As I doorbell in Magnolia, I meet a lot of renters, and in some areas, including Magnolia, they are completely dependent on the bridge. They’re the ones who would be impacted most by removing it. And I think as we start tackling these conversations about densifying Magnolia Village, densifying at 34th and Government, it makes a lot of sense to replace the bridge.”

Michael George, same question:

“We should’ve been reserving for the Magnolia Bridge for a long time. We didn’t do it. That’s on city government, not on the people of Magnolia. So we have to replace that bridge. I think the biggest opportunity to add affordable housing in the city, definitely in our district, is Interbay. We’re going to have the light rail system running through there. We can not continue to put more traffic through 15th. We are also going to need to move cars through there.  I am going to do everything I can to replace that bridge and I’m also going to do everything. I can to connect it to density in Magnolia as well as developing Interbay the way it should be, which is with a lot of affordable housing.”

Daniela Lipscomb-Eng, in response to a question about how to make biking safer and accessible to everyone:

“When I’m in my car—because I do drive, I have four young boys under the age of five—nothing infuriates me more than when there’s a biker in front of me and they’re not in the bike lane. So I’ve went to the Cascade Bike Club and I asked them why, why do people do this? And they said to me that the street cleaners do not fit on these protected bike lanes, and so they’re full of garbage, full of glass, full of needles, and they’re dirty. So let’s work with the bike clubs and let’s work with these new bike lanes that we’re putting in to ensure that the city can clean them so that if bikers are going to use them, that they’re safe.”

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Jim Pugel, same question:

“We promised the Move Seattle levy voters that we were going to get ‘X’ amount of money to advance the bike use program, and they say now that it’s too expensive, so we have to cut some. [If we’re going to do that], then we have to take the same rate or the same amount of cuts to the Rapid Rides, to the sidewalk improvements, to the bridge improvements, to everything else, at the same percentage. It’s only fair. If we don’t, then we lose trust with our voters.”

Don Harper, on how he would deal with encampments in District 1:

“I would remove them. One thing that’s happened is that we have lost contro of our city and we had an opportunity to start to correct this years ago and we just played around and we’ve been playing around with it for since Murray was elected. What I think we have to do is we’ve got to get our city back, because just in the same way we treat our children, we have to give them discipline, the same thing has to happen with [the homeless population.]”

Annual Homeless Count: Redefining “Shelter,” Struggling to Count the Chronically Homeless

The latest annual report on King County’s homeless population from All Home King County found an overall decrease in the number of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness in Seattle, from 4,488 last year to 3,558 in 2019—a reduction Mayor Jenny Durkan touted in a letter announcing the expansion of the Navigation Team as “the first decrease since 2012″ and evidence that ” our shared work to address our crisis of affordability and homelessness is having an impact.” Over the same time period, the number of people experiencing homelessness who were in some form of shelter or transitional housing increased from 4,000 to 4,239.

This year—at the request of Mayor Durkan’s Human Services Department—All Home redefined “shelter” to include five “tiny house village” encampments. This added 180 people to the “sheltered” count, which accounts for all but 59 individuals added to the “sheltered” category.

However, those numbers conceal a few important details: First, that the number of unsheltered people living in tent encampments actually went up in this year’s count, from 1,034 to 1,162. Second, this year—at the request of Mayor Durkan’s Human Services Department—All Home redefined “shelter” to include five “tiny house village” encampments that were previously categorized as encampments. This added 180 people to the “sheltered” count, which accounts for all but 59 individuals added to the “sheltered” category. (A sixth village, at Northlake, was excluded “until it is up to ADA code,” according to the board minutes.) Including the tiny houses—communities where people live in wooden structures the size of a small garden shed—in the “encampment” count would have raised that number to 1,342. The board vote on the redefinition was split 10-4.

In a letter to the All Home board in March, Seattle Human Services Department Director Jason Johnson requested that the tiny houses be moved to the “shelter” category, arguing that they meet “the most relevant” criteria set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for “shelter”—namely, that the structures are ADA accessible, that there is security on site, that the site has hygiene facilities, that the structures are ventilated, and that they include sanitary food preparation areas. In the letter, Johnson also notes that the five tiny house villages have case management and offer extended hours or 24/7 access.

“If basic shelters, which only allow people to come in overnight and sleep on floor with no services and amenities are classified as shelter, then permitted villages that meet the HUD requirements of shelter, and have amenities, services and outcomes that far exceed that of basic shelter, should also be classified as such,” Johnson wrote.

Alison Eisinger, head of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, which was responsible for what was then called the One-Night Count until All Home took over in 2017, called the reclassification of tiny house villages as shelter “Orwellian” and out of keeping with decades of established practice.

HUD’s minimum criteria for emergency shelter (Appendix A) also include additional requirements, such as smoke detectors in each unit, structural standards, compliance with fair housing rules, heating and cooling, and other requirements that Johnson did not mention in his letter.

The report also found a reduction in the number of veterans, young people, and chronically homeless people living outdoors. Of those three categories, the decrease in veteran and youth homelessness is a clear result of new investments in shelter and housing targeted at those specific populations. The apparent decline in the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness, however, could be a result of the methodology used to come up with that number, which is an extrapolation based on in-person interviews with chronically homeless individuals—defined as individuals who have experienced homelessness for a year or more or on four separate periods during a three-year span, and who also have a disabling condition that prevents them from working or going to school.

Extrapolating these numbers to Seattle (based on the percentage of the population , this finding would suggest that the number of chronically homeless unsheltered people—increased from just over 1,200 in 2017 to nearly 1,800 in 2018, then decreased to just over 600 people between 2018 and 2019. Since chronically homeless people are, by definition, people who are homeless year after year, and since there has not been any massive investment in new permanent supportive housing for hundreds of chronically homeless people in Seattle, the obvious conclusion is that these numbers are not an accurate guide to the actual number of unsheltered chronically homeless people in Seattle from year to year. A similar fluctuation can be seen in the number of unsheltered people with mental illness and substance use disorders—a pattern that probably reflects the challenges with the methodology All Home’s researchers use, rather than any wild fluctuation in the number of people living on the streets with mental illness and addiction from year to year.

Daniel Malone, the director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, says the surveys that serve as the basis for the counts of unsheltered people in various sub-populations may be to blame. “They survey people, then extrapolate out to the total number of people who are unsheltered, so if one year if you happen to interview a bunch of people who meet the criteria for chronic homelessness, and the next year you interview a bunch of people who don’t, then you’re going to end up multiplying a factor and applying it to the total number of unsheltered people,” Malone says. “I think you naturally have to be much less confident in that kind of demographic extrapolation.”

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Kira Zylstra, All Home’s acting director, acknowledges that “there is fluctuation with all of these numbers” based on survey data, “particularly with more refined slices of the data. … For chronically homeless and people with disabilities and other characteristics and needs, it’s dependent on a representative survey, which has even further limitations, as well as reported data” obtained through other sources.

To put a finer point on it, information obtained on sheltered people through the county’s Homeless Information Management System (HMIS) is generally pretty good, because it’s based on tracking individual people from year to year—a fact that’s reflected in the number of chronically homeless people in shelter, which has fluctuated only slightly between 2017 and now.

Information on chronically homeless people living on the streets is much less reliable for a number of reasons , including the fact that interview subjects are located by formerly homeless people themselves, who may gravitate to people and places they already know; the fact that people with major disabilities may face extra challenges that make them less likely to participate in lengthy, in-person interviews with researcher; and the fact that the survey results are extrapolated to apply to much larger populations, despite the fact that in the case of unsheltered people in particular, the survey itself may be unrepresentative.

This year,  the data on all chronically homeless individuals in King County is extrapolated using surveys with about 180 people, some of whom did not respond to all questions. Anything unrepresentative about this population will be multiplied and magnified when the researchers extrapolate from that small sample to the entire homeless population in King County and Seattle. For example, the researchers reached conclusions about the chronically homeless population by figuring out what percentage of survey respondents fit into certain categories—sheltered vs. unsheltered, individual vs. families, etc.—and multiplying that percentage by the total number of people in the general street count in those categories.

Malone, whose organization works primarily with chronically homeless people, says he hopes the extrapolated surveys of unsheltered people won’t be used to dictate policy or funding decisions or to fuel self-congratulatory press releases. He maintains that the best use of the count is as a general comparison of homelessness from year to year—by that standard, he says, the real story is that the unsheltered homeless population has declined as the number of shelter beds in Seattle has increased.

 

Afternoon Crank: Opportunistic Dumping, Unredacted Documents

Image via city of Seattle

1. Every week, the city provides reports showing which encampments the Navigation Team—a group of police and outreach workers that removes unauthorized encampments—plans to clear out in the next five days, including the number of encampments on the list that constitute “obstructions,” a designation that exempts their removal from the usual notice and outreach requirements. (As I reported last week, the team now spends the overwhelming majority of its time in the field removing such “obstruction” encampments.)

In those reports, one phrase appears again and again as a justification for encampment removals: “Large amounts of garbage present on site.”

The problem of garbage pileups at encampments is undeniable—anyone who walks, rides, or drives by one of the city’s highly visible tent cities has seen them—but is it fair to pin the garbage problem entirely on the homeless population? More to the point, if the city is using garbage as one of the justifications for clearing encampments without providing even 72 hours’ notice, does the city know how much of the problem is caused by homeless people dumping trash, and how much is caused by housed people dumping their unwanted stuff in places where they know they’re unlikely to be caught?

Is it really possible that each of a few hundred homeless people living in encampments accounted for more than five times as much waste per person than people living in houses and apartments?

These questions came up for me recently when I was reading the Navigation Team’s most recent quarterly report, which noted that SPU had picked up 335 tons of trash at the 71 encampments it removed in the first quarter of  2019. Those 71 encampments, according to the report, included a total of 731 unduplicated individuals. Doing the math, the report implies that each of those homeless individuals produced about 0.46 tons of trash in the 3-month period accounted for by the report. (Those 335 tons do not include trash picked up by a contractor through SPU’s pilot “purple bag” trash pickup program, which disposes of trash collected at a small number of unauthorized encampment sites.)

By comparison, Seattle Public Utilities’ 652,000 residential customers generated a total of 60,934 tons of garbage in that same period, or about 0.09 tons per person. How can that be? Is it really possible that each of a few hundred homeless people living in encampments accounted for more than five times as much waste per person than people living in houses and apartments?

Local right-wing media would have you believe that the answer is yes; a homeless person, who may literally be digging clothes and food out of other people’s trash, somehow produces more waste than you or me, with our Amazon orders and boxes of discarded takeout and boxes of books Kondo’d to the recycling bin.

But the answer is much more straightforward: Housed people (and construction contractors) use homeless encampments as their dumping grounds. “During encampment cleans, larger items including wood (used as shelter), appliances, generators, propane tanks, car parts and bikes are frequently removed in addition to the trash,” says Sabrina Register, a spokeswoman for SPU. SPU refers to this practice as “opportunistic illegal dumping,” and Register says it often includes items like “couches, rugs and mattresses” from the homes of people who choose to dump those items at encampments rather than pay SPU to pick them up. SPU doesn’t distinguish between these two figurative piles of trash; rather, the couches and countertops and mattresses and toilets all go into the same pile that the city uses to justify removing encampments with no warning, and that conservative commentators use to justify calls for ramping up crackdowns on homeless people in general.

Given how misleading the city’s “tons of garbage” measure turns out to be, perhaps it’s time for the Navigation Team to retire those numbers from its quarterly reports—or for SPU to start differentiating between old bathtubs dumped by remodeling homeowners and sleeping bags left behind by homeless people when they’re told to move along.

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2. The city of Seattle’s Human Services Department has finally released a set of mostly unredacted documents about the scuttled plan to locate a secure parking lot for people living in their cars near Genesee Park in Southeast Seattle. I requested the documents as part of my reporting on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s decision to abandon plans for the parking lot, whose opening date was moved back repeatedly, most recently to sometime in March. The city initially released a set of heavily redacted documents, claiming that they were exempt from disclosure under a “deliberative process” exemption to the state Public Records Act; after I filed multiple challenges, including a request for review by the state attorney general’s office, HSD released less-redacted versions of the documents.

The city initially provided a set of highly redacted documents in response to a records request I filed back in April seeking information about how the mayor made the decision to reject plans for the Genesee location. The Low-Income Housing Institute had signed a contract to operate and provide security for the lot, which was initially supposed to open on February 28, but Mayor Durkan scuttled that plan after neighbors, led by Mount Baker neighborhood activist and District 3 city council candidate Pat Murakami, raised objections to the plan, which they called another example of dumping undesirable projects on Southeast Seattle.

As I noted in my story earlier this month, Durkan’s decision came after months of groundwork by HSD, which had been working on plans for a safe parking lot since at least last October, and had narrowed down potential sites to a short list that included the Genesee Park location by early January at the latest. Nonetheless, Durkan’s office said she had been briefed on the options for the very first time at the end of February, one day before the lot was initially scheduled to open—and a couple of days after the first critical news reports hit local TV airwaves.

The unredacted documents (communications plan; neighborhood flyer; outreach timeline) provide additional details about the scuttled pilot, including how long it was supposed to last (through December 2019); how the city narrowed down the list of sites (“The site identification focused on areas of the city where gentrification and housing displacement has been an issue”); and how the city will prevent “the behavioral problems” associated with RV residents (no RVs would be allowed). The materials place a great deal of emphasis on the idea that people living in their cars (as opposed to RVs) are regular, upstanding citizens who’ve simply fallen on hard times. “This program is designed for adults and students that drive to work or go to school but need a safe parking space to sleep while trying to find permanent housing,” a community flyer stressed. Similarly, the communications plan for the proposal highlights the fact that the lot would have been for people living in cars, not RVs:

According to the most recent Point in Time Count of people experiencing homelessness in King County, about 3,372 people were living in their vehicles, an increase of percent over the 2017 count. People living in vehicles represented more than half of the county’s unsheltered homeless population. Of those 3,372 people, about a third were living in cars; more than half were in RVs.

 

Morning Crank: The Council Takes a Closer Look at the “Prolific Offenders” Report

1. Six of the seven District 2 city council candidates participated in a forum at the Georgetown Ballroom last night, and I livetweeted the whole thing. Check out the thread to find out what committee Ari Hoffman wants to chair, when Tammy Morales last called 911, why socialist Henry Dennison won’t answer yes/no questions… and also a lot of information about the candidates’ plans are for addressing homelessness, environmental racism, and how they would counter displacement in South Seattle.

2. City council members Lisa Herbold and Lorena Gonzalez invited leaders of several of the business groups that funded a recent report on so-called “prolific offenders” Wednesday, and raised questions about the methodology behind the report and some of its conclusions.

Mike Stewart, the head of the Ballard Alliance, said he and other business leaders got the idea for the report after they “started to realize that things are changing a lot” for business owners, who he said are dealing with a level of crime they’ve never experienced before. “It feels like  many of the instances of the criminal behavior that happens seems to be coming from many of the same people—so an individual might commit a crime in a business district one day and the next week, they’re back again,” Stewart said.  Erin Goodman, the head of the SODO Business Improvement Area, added, “One individual in our sample is quite simply terrorizing the Ballard business district. … In a single day in 2018, he shoplifted from five stores in a two-hour period, brazenly pushing a shopping cart full of the stolen items from store to store.”

These bookings include charges for failure to appear or comply with terms of release, which made up 41% of the charges in a King County assessment of its “Familiar Faces” program, which deals with a similar population.

The report, “System Failure,” was put together by former mayor Ed Murray’s public safety advisor, Scott Lindsay. It highlights the booking histories of 100 individuals, hand-picked by Lindsay and characterized in the report as “roughly representative of a larger population of individuals who are frequently involved in criminal activity in Seattle’s busiest neighborhoods.” Every person on Lindsay’s list had four or more bookings into King County Jail over a 12-month period and had “indicators” that they were chronically homeless and had a substance use disorder.

The criteria Lindsay used for his list are similar to those used in King County’s Familiar Faces initiative, which, in 2014, identified 1,252 people with four or more annual bookings (94 percent of them with a substance use disorder or behavioral health issue, or both), except that Lindsay chose to zero in specifically on frequent offenders who are homeless, which Familiar Faces does not. Just 58 percent of the people on the 2013 Familiar Faces list had indicators that they were homeless. By hand-picking a list of offenders who are homeless (and by choosing to highlight the stories of mostly people who moved to Seattle from elsewhere), Lindsay’s report feeds into the common, but unsupported, belief that most people who commit property crimes are homeless and that homeless people from across the country come to Seattle to mooch off the city’s generosity.

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Gonzalez and Herbold pressed the “System Failure” funders on some of the methodology in their report, including the fact that Lindsay determined the number of crimes each person had committed using police reports, complaints, and charging documents, without looking at anything the person said in their own defense or tracking whether they were ultimately found guilty. Goodman, from the SODO BIA, acknowledged that “some of these folks could have gone through the criminal system and been found innocent,” but added, “This is simply a snapshot based on bookings. [Lindsay] clearly states that it does not say how the case was adjudicated.”

Goodman expressed frustration that so many people were let out of jail within hours or days of being arrested; that so few of the people found incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness were subject to involuntary commitment; and that “there was zero accountability in the system for consequences for failure to comply with court-ordered release conditions.” Those conditions, according to the report, included things like appearing at every court date; abstaining from drugs and alcohol; submitting to random drug tests; and going to abstinence-based inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Underfunding services and then complaining that they aren’t working “is like sprinkling a little bit of salt over a giant bowl of soup and then [saying], ‘Oh, salt doesn’t work,'” Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard said.

One issue with these kinds of conditions is that there simply isn’t enough available capacity—in other words, funding—for the services that do exist to serve clients with mental health and substance abuse challenges. The Law Enforcement Diversion Program, for example, recently expanded with funding from the recent Trueblood court settlement to provide a vastly expanded suite of services (including mental health care, transitional housing, and intensive case management) to people whose competency to stand trial has been called into question. That funding will serve about 150 people who would not have previously been eligible for the program. But, as Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, who was also at the table, pointed out, there are likely thousands of people who could benefit from similar services, while the total capacity for all such programs is in the hundreds. Underfunding services and then complaining that they aren’t working “is like sprinkling a little bit of salt over a giant bowl of soup and then [saying], ‘Oh, salt doesn’t work,'” Daugaard said. “We are not right-sizing the things that are effective.”

The other, related, issue with expecting people to comply with court conditions is that those conditions are often unreasonable. As long as the underlying issues that are causing someone to shoplift or act aggressively or loiter in the doorway of a business aren’t addressed, telling people to show up to day reporting or abstain from their drug of choice is a losing strategy. It’s little wonder that 100 percent of the people Lindsay chose for his report  failed to comply with the conditions imposed by the court.

Goodman’s frustration is understandable: Her group represents businesses in an area of the city with the highest concentration of people living in RVs, many of them with substance use disorders, untreated mental illness, or both. But there’s little point, experts say, in trying to force people into treatment when they aren’t ready. “If the clients aren’t ready, they aren’t ready, and therein lies the challenge,” Heather Aman, a deputy prosecutor at the city attorney’s office who works with LEAD clients, told me recently. “Anyone who isn’t addressing their substance use or mental health issues has an impact on their community, because there’s not an ability to force individuals to [get help or treatment] until they’re ready. And what do you do with the person that needs to be ready? That’s the million-dollar question.”

City’s Outreach Partner Disengages from Navigation Team as City Removes More Encampments Without Notice

The city’s Navigation Team, a group of Seattle police officers and social service workers that removes  unauthorized encampments from public places and offers referrals to shelter and services to their displaced residents, has shifted its focus at the direction of Mayor Jenny Durkan. Instead of providing 72 hours’ notice and offers of shelter and services before removing unauthorized encampments (the “navigation” part of the equation), the Navigation Team is now focused primarily on removing encampments deemed to be “obstructions,” a designation that exempts the team from the usual notice and outreach requirements.

In response to this shift in focus, REACH, the nonprofit that serves as the social-service and outreach arm of the Navigation Team, will no longer participate in encampment removals except when camp residents explicitly request their presence, the group’s co-director, Chloe Gale, says.

I asked Sgt. Eric Zerr, the Seattle Police Department team leader for the Navigation Team, about the shift after a recent public safety town hall meeting in North Seattle. “[Durkan] just said, ‘Given that we have limited resources… these are the things you guys should focus on,” Zerr said. “And it isn’t that we aren’t still doing 72-hour cleans”—the city’s preferred term for what many advocates refer to as sweeps—”we still are. But I think the priority of the team has changed, [in that] the mayor wants us to focus on cleans that are more obstruction-oriented.”

“It isn’t that we aren’t still doing 72-hour cleans. We still are. But I think the priority of the team has changed, [in that] the mayor wants us to focus on cleans that are more obstruction-oriented.—Seattle Police Sgt. and Navigation Team leader Eric Zerr

Over the course of five weeks in April and May, 96 percent of encampments scheduled for removal on the Navigation Team’s weekly unauthorized encampment removals list were for “obstructions,” and therefore exempt from the usual notice and referral requirements. This list does not correspond precisely to which camps are ultimately removed, because many factors can contribute to whether the city removes a particular encampment on schedule. However, a comparison to previous schedules shows a clear upward trend—in August 2018, for example, 74 percent of scheduled removals were for “obstruction” encampments exempt from the notice and outreach rules.

Ordinarily, under rules the city adopted in 2017, the Navigation Team has to provide at least 72 hours’ notice—and two visits from outreach workers—before it can remove an unauthorized encampment. The “obstruction” designation functions like a declaration of emergency, allowing the Navigation Team to bypass those requirements. (They typically offer 30 minutes’ notice to allow people to leave voluntarily, but are not required to do so by law). “The mayor really wants us to focus on [removing encampments in] rights-of-way and parks,” said Sgt. Zerr. “Our calendar is still full, but it just doesn’t have the amount of 72-hour cleanings it used to.”

Mark Prentice, a Durkan spokesman, denies that there has been any change in the city’s approach to encampment removals. “There has not been a new shift towards obstruction/hazard removals, nor is this a new trend,” Prentice said in an email. “Rather, there has been long-term and concentrated focus by the team to remove obstructions that are impacting the public’s ability to safely access rights-of-way, such as sidewalks and mobility ramps.”

“There has not been a new shift towards obstruction/hazard removals, nor is this a new trend. Rather, there has been long-term and concentrated focus by the team to remove obstructions that are impacting the public’s ability to safely access rights-of-way.” —Mayor Jenny Durkan spokesman Mark Prentice

Prentice suggested that I may have missed coverage of the issue last summer by other local media, and provided a link to an August 2018 Seattle Times story that was about the increase in encampment removals in general. That story noted that at the time, about 40 percent of encampment removals for the year to date were exempt from the mandatory outreach and offer-of-shelter requirements. UPDATED: HSD’s most recent report on encampment removals shows that 82 percent of the removals were camps deemed to be “hazards” or “obstructions” and exempt from those requirements. That’s an increase from the last three months of 2018, when the report found that about 75 percent of removals were exempt from those requirements.

According to the city’s official encampment removal rules, a camp (which, as defined in the city’s rules, can consist of a single sleeping bag if it looks like it’s located in a public place for the purpose of sleeping overnight) is an “obstruction” if it’s “in a City park or on a public sidewalk; interfere[s] with the pedestrian or transportation purposes of public rights-of-way; or interfere[s] with areas that are necessary for or essential to the intended use of a public property or facility.” Interpreted broadly, this means that a single tent in a city park can be considered an “obstruction” of the park’s intended use, and subject to removal without notice or outreach.

REACH’s Gale says her organization’s outreach workers—who are supposed to help encampment residents hook up with shelter and services— “don’t always feel comfortable there. We’ve agreed that that’s optional. We’ll go if we’re requested by the people at the site, but we’re not going to just stand by” as a matter of course, she says. REACH will still participate in outreach prior to the increasingly rare 72-hour removals.

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Instead, Gale says REACH is moving to a “neighborhood-based outreach model” that involves getting to know communities, including businesses as well as both sheltered and unsheltered residents—a better way to build trust, Gale says, than showing up for the first time on the day of an unannounced removal. REACH is in the process of embedding outreach workers in four quadrants of the city, where they’ll partner with local business improvement districts to identify people experiencing chronic homelessness and build relationships with them over time, with the goal of getting them into services and off the street.

As REACH phases out of its work with the Navigation Team, the city is taking its outreach services in-house, hiring two new “system navigators” who, according to Durkan spokesman Prentice, “will work in the same way as REACH does, providing outreach during  encampment removals and lead[ing] on making offers of shelter, referrals to shelter, and transporting people to shelter.” (Zerr said SPD also provides outreach when they can.)

As REACH phases out of its work with the Navigation Team, the city is taking its outreach services in-house, hiring two new “system navigators” who, according to Durkan spokesman Prentice, “will work in the same way as REACH does, providing outreach during  encampment removals and lead[ing] on making offers of shelter, referrals to shelter, and transporting people to shelter.”

In 2017, the ACLU of Washington unsuccessfully sued the city on behalf of encampment residents who said the city unlawfully seized and destroyed their property. ACLU spokesman Brian Robick said it was “especially troubling” to hear that the city had ramped up “obstruction”-related encampment removals, “given the undisputed fact that many unhoused people have nowhere else to go.”

“Seattle’s policy and practice of seizing and destroying unhoused residents’ property without adequate notice or an opportunity to be heard raises grave civil rights concerns,” Robick said. “Throwing away someone’s belongings without warning is not only unconstitutional—it is harmful, inhumane, and ineffective, and does nothing to help people get off the streets or address the housing crisis.”