Tag: unauthorized encampments

Council Reshuffles Durkan’s Budget, Cop Encampment Training Led to Just Nine Shelter Referrals, and Shaun Scott’s Near-Win

Mayor Durkan announces her plans for spending Mercer Megablock proceeds.

I’m back from vacation, the council has almost passed a 2020 budget with aggressive edits to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal, and the election is officially all-but-over (results will be certified on Friday). Here are a few items that are worth your attention.

1. Semi-final election results: Although the local and (to a much lesser extent) national press has fixated on the fact that incumbent Kshama Sawant came back from behind to defeat Amazon-backed challenger Egan Orion by more than 1,750 votes, an equally fascinating late-voting story has played out in Northeast Seattle’s District 4, where neighborhood activist and former Tim Burgess aide Alex Pedersen, who was backed by both the business lobby and Burgess’ People for Seattle PAC, is poised to defeat Democratic Socialists of America candidate Shaun Scott by fewer than 1,400 votes.

Sawant’s swing was more dramatic, but for Scott to come so close in a district that is less than 3 percent African American—Scott is black—and with so much less money and institutional funding was a sign, perhaps, that District 4, which includes the University of Washington along with a number of higher-turnout precincts with views of Lake Washington and incomes to match, wasn’t entirely convinced by Pedersen and Burgess’ appeals to “Seattle Is Dying”-style populism. Or that students were compelled to actually turn out for a charismatic, hard-campaigning, issue-oriented socialist; we’ll know more once precinct-level data becomes available.

Egan Orion’s loss to incumbent Kshama Sawant has overshadowed Shaun Scott’s comeback in District 4.

2.  Council pushes back on Durkan’s budget: Before I left, the council had already indicated it planned to alter Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget proposal pretty dramatically.

I reported on many of the changes back when they were still in the proposal stage, including:

• Amendments redirecting millions in proceeds from the sale of the Mercer Megablock to fund housing and bike lanes in South Seattle (which has no uninterrupted safe bike connections to downtown);

• A proviso requiring the Human Services Department to provide quarterly reports on what the encampment-clearing Navigation Team is up to;

• The elimination of funds to relocate a tiny house village in Georgetown that both neighbors and the city agree is working well;

• Cutting the size and scope of a proposed program that would help homeowners build second units and rent them out as moderate-income housing and requiring that the city do a race and social justice analysis of the proposal;

• Reducing or freezing funds for Durkan’s plans for dealing with “prolific offenders,” including a proposed expansion of probation;

Out of an unknown number of individuals contacted by the Navigation Team as the result of 124 officer calls, nine people “accepted” a referral to shelter, and an unknown number of those nine actually showed up at shelter.

• Repurposing some of the $3 million in soda tax revenues Durkan had proposed setting aside to fund capital improvements to P-Patches, including gardens in Ballard and Capitol Hill, for other initiatives to promote healthy food in low-income communities most impacted by the tax, and stipulating that any soda tax revenues that go to the P-Patch program must be spent in designated Healthy Food Priority Areas; and

ª $3.5 million in funding for the LEAD program, whose planned expansion Durkan did not propose funding. The new money, along with a $1.5 million grant from the Ballmer foundation, will allow the pre-arrest diversion program to manage its ever-expanding caseloads in the coming year.

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In addition, the council adopted a number of smaller-ticket items and placed conditions on some of the mayor’s spending proposals, including:

• A request that the Human Services Department survey service providers that provide case management to homeless clients who wear Bluetooth-enabled “beacons” provided by a company called Samaritan, which created an app enabling donors to read up on the personal stories of beacon wearers in the area and give money to businesses and agencies on their behalf. Homeless participants can access the donations in the form of goods or debit cards, and are required to participate in case management and report on their progress through the app. The proviso asks HSD to find out what kind of burden the app is placing on agencies that provide case management, since the company requires its clients to participate in case management but does not fund any actual case managers. Continue reading “Council Reshuffles Durkan’s Budget, Cop Encampment Training Led to Just Nine Shelter Referrals, and Shaun Scott’s Near-Win”

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.”