Another Victory for Transitional Homeless Encampments

On March 30, 2015, the Seattle City Council passed a long-overdue ordinance allowing the construction of three new regulated homeless encampments on public and private land.

While fighting for this bill, I also introduced and won support for an amendment allowing the City to consider any plot of land for encampments, not just commercial and industrial zones. Redlining the homeless to areas away from public transportation and social services is unconscionable. By agreeing to study all zones for potential encampment sites, the City Council is finally upholding the principle that we are all residents here, whether we have a roof over our heads or not.

Two years ago, a similar council bill to explore establishing regulated homeless encampments failed by a 4-5 vote. What has changed since then?

Over the last two years, more and more people are fighting back against the corporate control of politics in Seattle.  Part of the groundwork for securing this victory was laid during the budget season last year, where I pushed back against a business as usual budget and won an amendment to provide funding for critical services at encampments.

During the budget process and before this recent victory, hundreds of activists flooded City Hall to demand an end to the inhuman policies that have driven their fellow Seattleites into the cold. This movement put pressure on the Council, forcing elected officials to change their stance and allow safe, regulated homeless encampments to be established.

Tent cities are by no means a 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. As a whole, this ordinance is only a small step toward bold solutions that address the epidemic of homelessness:

We have to fight for affordable housing so fewer people become homeless in the first place. We have to fight for rent control to reign in skyrocketing rents.

  • We need a Bertha-sized investment to build tens of thousands of city owned housing units.
  • We need full funding for human services.
  • We need to expand tenant rights, and ultimately we need to shift the balance of power away from the big developers and landlords who are driving more and more people out of their homes.

Thank you to everyone who fought for this ordinance, including the activists in Nickelsville and Tent City 3, the UW Health Equity Circle, Seattle Pacific University student activists, members of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, the Low Income Housing Institute, SHARE-WHEEL, and so many others. This is yet another example of how when we organize, we can win.

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