By Ruth Bayang
Northwest Asian Weekly
A bill that would give illegal homeless encampments more time to move — will go to a committee next week.
Residents and business owners from the Chinatown-International District (ID), and other community members, literally packed the house at a Sept. 6 Seattle City Council meeting.
Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Lisa Herbold, Rob Johnson, and Kshama Sawant introduced an ordinance to address the city’s protocols on cleaning up homeless encampments. The “30-day” legislation proposes that the city must wait 30 days before doing a sweep. Currently, the city provides a 72-hour notice to people in the encampments before removing them and must also offer social services.
Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez, who seconded the legislation which was proposed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and homeless advocates, said it’s been almost one year since Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency on homelessness. “The status quo is not okay,” said Gonzalez.
The City of Seattle said there has been 441 encampment sweeps since that emergency declaration last November.
During public comment, representatives from ID opposed to the legislation, said that crime in the neighborhood is connected to homelessness.
Felicity Wang, owner of Asian Pacific Tours and Travel on Jackson street, moved from Bellevue to the ID 16 years ago. She said the move has been good, until recently. Wang said the homeless has negatively affected her business and sense of security.
David Leong, Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce president, said from a safety standpoint, the ID has a lot of silent victims, especially senior citizens.
“They can’t protect themselves. So they’re having to resort to carrying an extra few dollars [in case] they get approached,” said Leong. “They’re 80, 90 years old. They offer food — some of the folks say ‘we don’t want food. We want your money.’ So this is becoming a huge safety problem.”
Sue-May Eng, instructor of the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill Team, said, “We have firsthand knowledge of how fast encampments can grow and the amount of negative and criminal activity such as assaults, robberies, drug dealing and prostitution that can occur, as well as the hazardous waste such as garbage, urine, feces, used condoms, and used hypodermic needles that can accumulate in 30 days.”
Eighteen different ID businesses have signed letters to the council, opposing the 30-day encampment eviction notice.
The letter, in part, stated that to “increase the encampment eviction wait period from 3 days to 30 days would destroy our neighborhood economically.”
Councilmember Tim Burgess, the lone dissenting vote, said, “This would give a new right to camp on public property, makes encampment removal nearly impossible.” He said the proposed ordinance is not the “balanced approach the people of Seattle deserve.”
Councilmember Bruce Harrell said the Sept. 6 vote only pushes the ordinance to committee. It does not put rules into practice.
Herbold said the bill is not perfect, but it’s a start.
Ruth Bayang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.