A decade after the City declared its intention to end homelessness, the number of people living without shelter in Seattle continues to grow. Encampments such as Seattle’s Tent Cities are a critical stop-gap measure for those who have been pushed into the streets by rising rents and stagnating wages.
But the City government has mostly failed to provide any support. In fact, over the past ten years Tent Cities have been actively harassed by the authorities. Encampments have been kicked off public land repeatedly and forced to constantly move from one church property to another.
During the budget process, I introduced an amendment to add $100,000 for non-profits and faith-based organizations to sustain and develop transitional encampments in Seattle. This amendment was co-sponsored by Councilmembers O’Brien and Bagshaw. The amendment passed in the Budget Committee unanimously, and has significance beyond the immediate services that it will help provide.
Through this amendment, homeless activists and housing advocates have achieved the first success in their demand that the City officially recognize the needs of transitional encampments for the homeless. Now we have the chance to build on this momentum as we fight to get the City to treat people living in encampments with humanity and respect. Designating public lands and infrastructure for encampments would be a great next step. Thanks to Councilmember Nick Licata for championing this cause for years.
$100,000 is a small amount of money in the face of the growing homeless crisis. But it will make concrete improvements in the lives of people living in transitional encampments by providing for such things as:
- Compliance with fire safety and health standards
- Provision of toilets, electricity, running water, and garbage collection
- Provision of cooking facilities
- Provision of camp cell phones / internet access
- Provision of tents, tarps, or similar shelter
- Other needs that maintain quality of life
Tent Cities are no lasting solution to the growing need for affordable housing and living-wage jobs. But in the face of a stunning increase in homelessness, they are a necessary measure that the City can no longer afford to ignore. With the wealthy in Seattle growing ever-wealthier, working people, the homeless, and the poor need to demand that the City work in our interests, not in the interest of big business and the wealthy.