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Seattle Mayor: City Will Tolerate Some Homeless Encampments

Tents line a small green space below Interstate 90 in Seattle.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Thursday unveiled what he called a more "balanced" approach to managing the city's unauthorized homeless encampments, entering a debate that has simmered for weeks.

Murray said at a news conference that city workers would tolerate encampments in some public spaces -- but not parks, sidewalks, or school grounds. 

"In locations that do not require immediate removal, the city will not displace people from unauthorized encampments unless we can provide them with a reasonable alternative of a place to go," he said.

Murray also said the city would devote $1.2 million to create four new authorized camps, and a pilot program aimed at "harm reduction" for drug users. Locations have not been set for the new camps.

The announcement comes as City Council members debate legislation that would limit the city's ability to remove encampments from some public spaces. The proposal has faced a backlash from some residents who say they want the city to take a tougher stance. 

Advocates for the homeless have called the city's current cleanup practices inhumane and ineffective because they simply push camps from one site to another.

Murray said he would send the City Council a more detailed set of reforms next week. He said they would including a "doubling" of the city's outreach to homeless people and better management of belongings removed from campsites.

The mayor's announcement dominated a discussion Friday morning at a meeting of the City Council's Human Services and Public Health Committee. 

Part of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's Oct. 13 announcement of the city's new protocols for managing unauthorized homeless encampments.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.