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January 14, 2015 at 12:44 PM

Seattle mayor asks City Council to authorize more tent cities

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposed new legislation on homeless encampments Wednesday, asking the City Council to authorize more tent cities — under certain conditions — in response to an uptick in street homelessness and illegal camping.

Murray had promised last month to present the council with a bill in January, saying the legislation would “make a limited number of unused, vacant lots on private and public land in non-residential areas available for encampments, not including city parks.”

The mayor provided more details Wednesday. His proposed legislation would allow up to three additional tent cities to operate at any one time. The sites would need to be within a half-mile of a public transit stop and at least a mile away from each other.

The city wouldn’t run the encampments. It would issue 12-month site permits to social service organizations to operate the tent cities.

Murray said he decided to take action after hearing from his Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness, a volunteer panel of homelessness experts.

“Permitted encampments are not, in my view, a long-term strategy to end homelessness,” the mayor said. “But organized encampments have less impact on our neighborhoods and provide a safer environment than what we see on our streets today.”

When the mayor convened the task force in October, he requested short-term solutions.

Expanding the availability of authorized homeless encampments was among the recommendations that the panel delivered to Murray and the council in December.

The task force recommended that the city consider authorizing new tent cities on sites in all zones, but the mayor’s bill would limit the sites to non-residential zones.

The panel suggested that the city authorize an additional seven encampments serving about 100 people each, rather than three.

There are currently a handful of authorized encampments in Seattle, such as Nickelsville. There are a total of six in King County, including Seattle. They tend to be located on sites connected with religious institutions, which are allowed to host tent cities with few restrictions.

There are many more unauthorized sites.

Murray’s proposed legislation builds on a bill, sponsored by Councilmember Nick Licata, that the council narrowly voted down in 2013.

The mayor said his version includes additional requirements for tent city operators. For example, the organizations would help the city collect data on residents like it collects data on people who stay in homeless shelters.

Four council members flanked Murray as he announced his bill at a City Hall news conference: Licata, Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien and Sally Bagshaw. The council has nine members.

The proposed legislation will likely be controversial, as it was in 2013, O’Brien said. The council will begin discussion of the bill soon, he said.

Comments | More in General news, Government, Politics | Topics: homeless encampments, homelessness, Nickelsville

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