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Politics

Seattle Mayor Advocates Adding As Many As 3 Tent Cities Amid Rising Homelessness

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A McLin
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Flickr

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has revived an idea to expand the number of authorized homeless encampments, calling it a short-term fix for a growing crisis. 

It's hard to ignore the problem if you walk in downtown Seattle early in the morning. You'll pass lots of people sleeping in doorways or under store awnings. Some use cardboard boxes to create a semblance of private space.

Murray says the number of people without shelter in Seattle has climbed 30 percent in the past four years. He says this is a big, complicated problem, exacerbated by shrinking federal and state investments in things such as mental health treatment and subsidized housing.

But Murray says the city has to take immediate steps to make sure more people have a safe place to sleep. That’s why he’s advocating allowing three more tent cities of 100 people each.

"Permitted encampments are not, in my view, a long-term strategy to end homelessness," Murray said. "But planned, organized encampments have less of an impact on our neighborhoods and they provide a safer environment than we see when people sleep on our streets."

Expanding From Religious Institutions To City And Private Land

The new tent cities would be allowed on city or private land in non-residential areas. Up until now, only religious institutions have been allowed to host them.

The Seattle City Council must approve the plan. Council member Nick Licata sponsored a similar ordinance that failed in 2013, but he says he’s more confident of passage this time around. Licata says he's gratified that Murray acknowledged the role organized encampments play in addressing the crisis in the short term. 

"He listened to his own task force. He listened to the advocates and realized this was a needed step to make, and it made sense towards moving people toward permanent housing," Licata said.

Murray is also adding 65 shelter beds and says he hopes to announce more additions next month. 

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