Murray: ‘Together we can make a difference in the current crisis of homelessness’

Mayor Murray delivered the following remarks during a press event today where he outlined legislation he will transmit to City Council increasing access to shelters and authorized encampments for those facing or living with homelessness. Here are his remarks as prepared:

Next week, volunteers will fan out across Seattle to conduct our annual One Night Count. Last year, we found more than 2300 people sleeping outside or in cars.

In the past three years, that number has grown by more than 30 percent. I fully expect that number to grow again this year.

These folks are our neighbors, each with his or her own unfortunate path to homelessness:

  • A woman, a survivor from domestic violence, has struggled to pay the rent, but has been unable to find more than part-time work.
  • A young man bouncing from one foster home to another throughout childhood, and now that he is 18, has no place to turn.
  • A man injured in a car accident, tortured by addiction and chronic depression.

Thousands more in our community have housing, but are living in extreme poverty, just one catastrophic event away from homelessness.

The dramatic erosion of state and federal investments to respond to these and other challenges have created a full-blown crisis. As a local community, we must respond.

Today, I am announcing several actions.

We are a generous city that currently funds more than 1,700 shelter beds – each serving an average of six people a year.

But each night, people are turned away from a warm bed due to lack of capacity.

Beginning tomorrow, the City will fund an additional 50 beds per night at the King County Administration Building. This emergency shelter will continue to operate throughout the winter.

In the next ten days, we will open another 15 shelter beds on Capitol Hill for youth living on the streets.

Young people face unique challenges and need specialized interventions.

We want to reach them early to reduce the risk that they will face long-term homelessness.

The council has already set aside funding that will be used to pay for these additional beds.

We have reviewed our inventory of surplus city buildings that could serve as additional shelter. There are few options and all require investments.

We hope to announce additional shelter capacity by the end of February. We will continue to work with the council on this challenge.

We know that emergency shelter alone is not enough. Many people reject shelter, even when it is available. Some have had bad experiences in shelters. Others are couples that want to stay together. Still others have pets. We must work on these issues.

Unauthorized tent encampments have sprung up around the city – both downtown and in our neighborhoods. Many locations are unsafe. Few have any sanitation services.

Permitted encampments are not, in my view, a long-term strategy to end homelessness.

But planned, organized encampments have less impact on our neighborhoods and provide a safer environment than what we see on our streets today.

This week, I am transmitting an ordinance to the City Council that allows for up to three permitted encampments in Seattle, each serving up to 100 people.

These encampments will be on vacant parcels in non-residential areas — on either private or City lands.

Permitted encampments will not appear in Seattle City Parks. We must not impact the current activities the public enjoys in parks and community centers.

These spaces are for other uses – child care, recreation, education and fitness – particularly by low-income families, youth and seniors.

The public voted to expand those opportunities last year, not curtail them.

So we must find other sites near transit so that residents can get to services and jobs.

And these sites must be more than a mile from other encampment sites to reduce concentration in one neighborhood.

The council has considered legislation authored by Councilmember Licata in the past. My proposal builds on his leadership.

We must have a better process to notify neighbors who have concerns about where encampments are located during the permitting process.

These sites must offer services and case workers to help people manage their challenges and transition from homelessness to more permanent housing.

The social service agencies that operate these encampments must use the same data collection tools as our current shelters – to help us understand how we can continue to improve the services the city provides.

I have visited a well-organized encampment sponsored by a faith community. Residents there talked about the shared responsibility of running the encampment.

They talked about how they felt safe. How they didn’t feel so alone.

The city is ready to work with other religious organizations interested in setting up a shelter in their facility or consider hosting an encampment.

We are developing a toolkit that these organizations can use to develop a site.

We will have dedicated staff that will help them through the process, including how they notify their neighbors.

And we will work to ensure that residents have access to other city support services.

As I said, we are a generous community, but we continue to look at how we spend our City resources to address homelessness.

I look forward to a report due in March from Human Services Director John Okamoto.

We are evaluating all the City’s investments in homelessness services and interventions—now nearly $37 million in total. I expect recommendations on better aligning our efforts with national best practices.

And we also continue to work with other cities, the county and the state on the causes of homelessness and our shared response. While more than 90% of King County’s shelter beds are located in Seattle, every community in our region must share in this responsibility.

We continue to work with the Committee to End Homelessness and United Way of King County to assess how we can leverage opportunities to expand shelter on a regional level.

Finally, I need to acknowledge the inspiring contributions of non-profits, universities, faith communities and neighborhood groups who are literally saving the lives of those sleeping on the streets.

I urge you to join them in this work. Together we can make a difference in the current crisis of homelessness.

Thanks to the council for their work to identify funding and craft our response to this crisis. We’ll hear from: Councilmember Licata and Councilmember O’Brien

Thanks, too, to the Unsheltered Homelessness Task Force led by Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, which helped so much to guide this conversation. We’ll hear from 2 members of the task force: Mark Putnam, Director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, and Alison Eisinger, Executive Director, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.