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Public Safety and Homelessness Update (under COVID-19 quarantine)

September 8, 2020

Public safety, and the problems of homelessness, are on everyone’s minds. Andrew Lewis, chair of the City Council’s Public Safety committee held two Town Halls in July and August, “Public Safety” on 7/28/2020 and “Homelessness Outreach” on 8/19/2020. The update below includes information from the city and from the two town halls.

Videos here: https://seattlechannel.org/mayor-and-council/city-council/council-events?videoid=x115844, https://seattlechannel.org/mayor-and-council/city-council/council-events?videoid=x116241

FAQ – update on Public Safety, Homelessness, and City of Seattle (under COVID-19)

What is the city doing about homeless camps in the COVID-19 quarantine?
– No removals with very rare exceptions for “extreme” situations – e.g., fully blocking a sidewalk or business entrance, etc.
– Outreach to individual camps with trash pickup-removal and attempts to provide social worker support.
– Recording encampment location and relevant site information, through the FIFI and other reporting methods, for outreach efforts and for future possible actions after quarantine.

Is the city still doing illegal dumping and needle pick-ups?
– Yes, as long as it’s not co-located with a homeless encampment.

Is there an announced plan or time frame for getting homeless into transitional housing, either during quarantine or after quarantine is lifted?
– Not that we know of.

Is the Nav Team defunded?
– Yes, the city council voted to cut funding for the city’s Navigational Team.

Does that mean there will be no outreach to address homeless camps now?
– Seattle Police officers who are in the Community Policing Team (CPT) and the bicycle patrol officers can still contact Homeless camps; however, no removals are done except as described above.
– The Seattle Fire Department has a “Health One” pilot program, consisting of a single van-based team of two EMTS and a social worker, who provide assistance and follow-up to homeless campers. This team makes extended-time visits (non-emergency) with homeless campers to provided what is needed, e.g., obtaining medical appointments and other support.

Does Health One replace the Nav Team?
– There is currently only one vehicle and team in the Health One pilot. If successful the program will considered for expansion as a non-police-based response to homelessness support.
– It only operates downtown and with limited hours right now. It would need to be “scaled up” to be city-wide and with expanded hours.

What about cutting the police budget by 50%? What will that do to public safety? (from the 7/28 Town Hall on Public Safety)
The following is a response from CM Andrew Lewis to a question from the public:
– Rationale: 56% of all 911 calls are non-criminal
– Nav Team funding is already 10% of SPD budget
– Hypothesis – could non-criminal calls get a medical & social services/outreach response?
– Funding from SPD would be diverted to non-police response teams – not clear what that would look like
– No specific explanations for how criminal activity in homeless camps would be addressed in the presence of reduced funding for police

What is being done to help those who are homeless? (From the 8/19 Town Hall on Homelessness Outreach)
– Various organizations currently provide services to the homeless – Chief Seattle Club supporting native people who are homeless, LIHI’s tiny house villages (Low-Income Housing Initiative), REACH substance treatment and mental illness services, Urban League provides assistance to homeless people of color
– Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) – provides a variety of services, including temporary housing and shelters, crisis support, etc.
– Many organizations are fundraising and working to build permanent housing for homeless
– Building housing takes time, some cities provide hotel vouchers for temporary housing (e.g., New York)
– Those with behavior health issues do better in a group situation than on their own in a hotel room, e.g., a group residence
– According to the DESÇ the homeless do best to exit homelessness when placed in housing with “wraparound” services (e.g., addiction and mental illness services, medical support, etc.)

What about encampments that are unsafe? What about excessive trash in parks and homeless camps preventing access to parks? (Town Hall questions submitted from the public)
– Depending on the specific situation, law enforcement response would still be appropriate
– No specifics on this
– Law enforcement has limited interaction in homeless camps currently
– District 4 CM Alex Pedersen’s office has been largely unresponsive to constituents’ reports of crime, particularly in the area of Cowen Park and Olga Park (15th NE & Ravenna Blvd)

What’s going on with the current City Council and Mayor-office funding for homelessness and housing for the homeless?
– The city council passed “Jump Start” legislation in July, a business tax for both economic relief and for homelessness
– There is no clear spending plan on this legislation
– The mayor announced building 600 new units of permanent homeless housing – timeline, end of 2021
– No announced plan on addressing homelessness in the meantime except to cut the Nav Team funding

SUMMARY
Right now the city has no announced comprehensive plan to deal with the many homeless encampments on streets and in parks. The situation continues to escalate the longer the quarantine goes on. Many people believe the situation is not safe for those living outdoors AND for those living in neighborhood homes.

If you have an opinion, please email the Mayor and the City Council:
– Mayor Durkan, jenny.durkan@seattle.gov
– Seattle City Council, council@seattle.gov
– Alex Pedersen, District 4 Council Member, alex.pedersen@seattle.gov
– City Council President Lorena González, lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov