SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will submit legislation to the City Council this week seeking approval of three new homeless encampments, saying the tent cities are needed to deal with rising homelessness, his office said on Thursday.
The proposal would bring to nine the number of authorized camps in the Pacific Northwest city as the mayor take steps to address what he called a “full-blown crisis” over homelessness.
“Permitted encampments are not, in my view, a long-term strategy to end homelessness,” Murray said. “But planned, organized encampments have less impact on our neighborhoods and provide a safer environment than what we see on our streets today.”
An audit last year found that more than 2,300 people were living outdoors or in cars in Seattle, an increase of 30 percent from three years earlier, Murray said. City officials are expecting that number to rise again this year.
In a draft ordinance to be submitted to the City Council this week, Murray said he was aiming to expand capacity at emergency shelters and seeking permits for the three new homeless camps serving 100 people each. The mayor’s proposal has strong support on the council, which is expected to swiftly approve the ordinance.
Homelessness has risen in Seattle in recent years due to the increased cost of living and less funding to deal with substance abuse and mental illness, according to the Seattle Human Services Department, which operates programs for the city’s vulnerable populations and supports the mayor’s plan.
Seattle currently has six authorized homeless camps, required to move every few months, according to the department. There are also dozens of non-permitted encampments that have sprung up in city parks, under roadways and in vacant lots.
Residents of such illegal camps often live under tarps, without access to bathrooms or basic necessities even during the winter months.
Under Murray’s proposal, the three new encampments would be placed in vacant lots or on city property, but not in city parks or residential areas. They would be run by social service organizations that would be required to offer basic services and counseling.
Opponents of the homeless camps say they do not offer a pathway to permanent shelter. Residents of neighborhoods where illegal camps have sprung up have complained that conditions can be both unsafe and unsanitary.
Seattle spends $37 million a year on homeless services.
Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Cynthia Johnston