Lid I-5: Reconnect Seattle


Image courtesy of Patano Studio Architecture

Seattle is growing fast, and if the number of people moving here did not make that clear, the number of cranes that can be seen over our skyline does. As fast as we want to build, what limits us in Seattle is the amount of available land.

Recently, the Lid I-5 steering committee hosted a morning bicycle tour from downtown Seattle to Mercer Island and back. We were able to experience the range of freeway lids the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has built. The lids help us create more buildable land.

Photo courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

We were joined by about twenty people including Representative Nicole Macri of the 43rd Legislative District. Interstate 5 (I-5) cuts directly through the 43rd Legislative District, separating many neighborhoods that were once connected. The Lid I-5 effort is focused on Downtown for now but could expand north and south and could also consider “non-liddable” conditions, such as the Chinatown-International District to reconnect communities disconnected by the interstate.

Re-imagining how we can reconnect our neighbors along I-5 is within our grasp. The Lid I-5 campaign is inspired by numerous examples nationwide both completed and planned, ranging from Klyde Warren Park in Dallas to Capitol Crossing in Washington, DC. If we take this innovative opportunity suggested by the Lid I-5 campaign, we could have 20 acres of new public land Downtown. Land costs are rising as buildable sites diminish. Lidding provides us with a tried-and-true way to create new public space while reducing the noise and pollution which spills into neighborhoods.

Image courtesy of © SOM

You may remember the effort in 2004 put forward by Allied Arts to imagine what the waterfront could look like if re-designed. Community leaders called for a tunnel, removal of the viaduct, and a waterfront boulevard. Many people called us dreamers, but we knew then that a connected community prioritizing “green over gray” public open space is more enjoyable for all and is healthier for residents and businesses. Now, 14 years later, we can literally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the dream for a connected waterfront where you can hear the waves instead of rumbling traffic is only months away.

Image courtesy of Patano Studio Architecture

The same opportunity is true when considering the addition of one or more lids over I-5. It may seem at first blush that we are dreaming to say we can create 20 new acres of open space Downtown, but this is a real possibility that we should take seriously. Lids are already in place on I-90 in Seattle (10.3 acres) and Mercer Island’s lid (12.3 acres) is a veritable forest now.

Image courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

Freeway Park: Beginning our bike tour at Freeway Park just south of the Convention Center we discussed current lids in the city. After experiencing the many freeway lids around the city, it is clear that improvements need to be made to Freeway Park for it to reach its full potential. Currently Freeway Park is not a complete lid and the gaps in the lid allow for noise and exhaust from traffic to overwhelm the park. This undercuts the effectiveness of the lid so much so that it was difficult to hear the two-story waterfall at the park. We need to start our work by filling these gaps in our only Downtown lid.

Image courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

Jackson Street: We stopped next at the freeway overpass on Jackson Street in the International District. This section of freeway will be difficult to address when reconnecting the neighborhood because the freeway is elevated for about 500 ft of roadway. Reconnecting the International District is critically important as it is the only neighborhood core that is cut in half by the freeway rather than other neighborhoods which are walled-off by the freeway. Unfortunately, a lid may not be the answer here, but the feel of the International District will improve when east-west re-connections are made.

Photo courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

The land over and around the I-90 Lid is divided into three parks; Judkins Park, Jimi Hendrix Park, and Sam Smith Park.

Judkins Park and Jimi Hendrix Park (I-90 lid): Our next stop was next to the Interstate 90 (I-90) lid where the Eastlink light rail stop will be located. From here you can see the open park space the lid provides the neighborhood, but the noise and vibration from the interstate makes it difficult to have conversations, even when standing near each other. This is a good example of how the lid also provides connective infrastructure for other regional projects, as the light rail station now has a larger walk-shed than would have been built as part of Sound Transit 2. Without the lid, the Northwest African American Museum would overlook lanes of travel and the Central District would be cut in half by I-90. Instead, the museum is surrounded by parks and stands out as an icon for the neighborhood.

Photo courtesy of Nakano Associates

Sam Smith Park (I-90 lid): It is hard to tell where solid ground ends and where the lid begins. The lid connects the neighborhood which would otherwise have endured narrow overpasses and subjected to all the negative externalities of the interstate. Luckily the Central District neighborhood and City of Seattle were adamant the I-90 reconstruction include a comprehensive lid. What could have become a trench echoing traffic noise and pollution is instead a pleasant park with bicycle trails and basketball courts. You can even have quiet conversations walking with your closest friend.

The pedestrian experience between Freeway Park and Sam Smith Park (atop the I-90 lid) is stark. For a peaceful environment, Sam Smith is the model to follow. Freeway Park is checker-boarded, leaving openings to the noise and vibration of I-5. Much of the space south of Seneca is not only unused but overgrown and an eyesore. Conversely, Sam Smith Park is a solid “land make” providing for a park, a playground, and walking/bicycle paths, two stories above the freeway lanes below. The space between the road and the park contains high powered fans and open-air space connecting the tunnel to vent stacks above in the park.

Photo courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

Mercer Island: After riding through the Mount Baker tunnel we crossed the I-90 bridge to Aubrey Davis Park on Mercer Island. Riding on the bridge was noisy – no practical enjoyment of the lake – yet we were solidly protected.

Leaving the noise of the bridge and arriving at Aubrey Davis Park we arrived at a half-mile long park complete with benches, tennis courts, cricket players and frisbees on the lawn, and surprising views of Lake Washington – you can almost hear the waves from the park! Yet, we were directly atop the interstate.

Aubrey Davis Park sits atop the I-90 lid and is named after the Mayor of Mercer Island (1970 – 1974) who famously declared he, “didn’t want to see, hear or smell” the I-90 expansion across Mercer Island. He and the community made that happen.

Image courtesy of Scott Boinjukian

Thanks to the work of the Lid I-5 team and public benefit money from the Convention Center, the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) and a consultant team will begin a feasibility study of lidding parts of I-5 starting in early 2019. I am optimistic the results from this study will pave the way for next steps in design, capital funding, and eventual lid construction to heal fractured urban neighborhoods.

The feasibility study comes as WSDOT separately begins a long-term visioning process for over 100 miles of the I-5 corridor with functional challenges and seismic vulnerabilities. Some of the challenges being studied are located in downtown Seattle. If WSDOT were to rebuild I-5 downtown, we must have complete lids included in the design.

By placing lids on top of I-5, we can reconnect neighborhoods throughout the city and create as much additional open space for Seattleites as the Olmstead Brothers did. We can stitch together the fabric of our community because we know a connected community with green public open space is more enjoyable and healthier for our residents.

Thank you to Dan Strauss for his contributions to this post.

Success! One BLOCK at a Time

Last year, my visionary architect friend Rex Hohlbein and his architect daughter Jenn LaFreniere left their jobs and created the Block Project.  Thanks to their vision, Seattle homeowners are now saying, “YES in my backyard!” to solve homelessness.

The BLOCK Project is more than your typical low income housing effort to move people out of homelessness.  It is a unique community-building program connecting people to people and putting roofs over heads.

Jenn and Rex started with the idea of inviting the broader community to help solve and end homelessness by building a BLOCK Home “in the backyard of one single-family lot on every residentially zoned block within the City of Seattle.” The Block Project Web Site explains more about how this project originated and the impact it has already had, for the better.

People who want a backyard BLOCK Home are called host families. Host families go through a vetting process, and following a thorough review, they join a database for residents to match with those in need.

The BLOCK Project is managed by the non-profit Facing Homelessness and all hosted residents come through a case-management process operated by partnering organizations.  Case management is provided currently by Chief Seattle Club, Mary’s Place, Sophia Way, and the Community Psychiatric Clinic.

When the case-manager has a client who meets the BLOCK Home qualifications, they go through the database of host families to look for a match between host and resident. This is the beginning of an intentional process of finding a good fit between host and resident. In the future, this will be aided by a match-making app designed for BLOCK Project.

Rex Hohlbein, standing in front of the BLOCK dwelling in Beacon Hill. Photo by the author.

This past weekend I visited one of the first BLOCK Homes in action.  A compassionate couple living on Beacon Hill opened their back yard to having a detached, 125 square foot home where their garden used to be, and opened their hearts and neighborhood to a formerly homeless man.  This couple showed me that We The People can collectively end homelessness in our city and region.

These host homeowners met their partner tenant at the Chief Seattle Club.  They chose each other and he has since become a part of their family. When I asked how long they expected him to live in his new home in their backyard they answered, “As long as he wants.  Forever, we hope.  It’s the best thing we have ever done with our backyard.”

The BLOCK Home has been thoughtfully designed to be off-grid and self-sufficient.  Each home has its own kitchen, shower, toilet, sleeping area, and solar-panels sufficient to heat and light the house — even in the gray days of Seattle winters, the home is warm.

The BLOCK Project is both progressive and sustainable.  Not only is each home designed to be self-sufficient, discharging gray water though a self-composting toilet, the design is currently permitted so long as it is hooked up to the sewer through the host property.

The home is respectful.  It is warm, dry, complete, and comes equipped with an inviting covered front porch to share with friends.   Here’s the truly progressive idea:  it brings the neighborhood together, encouraging economic integration and heartfelt social inclusion.

In the instance of the Beacon Hill home, people have donated their time and materials, and the out of pocket costs are estimated to be about $30,000 for this first one.  Professionals from Turner Construction, Herrara, and many others have donated their time to help design and construct the prototype.

While I was visiting with Rex and the homeowners, a general contractor showed up with metal door sweeps.  Rex smiled his beatific smile and said this contractor– like many others — was working pro bono. He was improving the outside storage closet where the solar batteries are currently stored.  The next generation of units will move the batteries to the back of the home creating more storage space.


Photo from the BLOCK website,





I asked how many people were in line to be hosts, offering to make their backyards available.  Rex said over 75 homeowners have expressed interest. Home owners see how they can make a difference for individuals and for our community.  They see how they can make space and provide a hand up, repairing years of emotional and social isolation.

Costs?  Rex says the true cost of an installed unit is at about $90K, but actual costs, with all the donations of material and labor came in about $28K for the first one.  He expects the typical cost to be around $30K.

What’s needed to catalyze this movement?  Sustainable grant sources and matching funds.  The first five units have been paid for through community funds, but the next thousand could be paid for through City and County grants with private matching funds.  The homeowner provides the land while the government and/or private sector provides the matching funds to build the homes.

The hosts with whom I spoke yesterday said, “Yes, in my backyard.”   They also said the neighborhood has been wonderful, and this project has restored their faith in their fellow human beings.



Highlights of our 2018 Budget

On Monday, November 20, we City Councilmembers held our final vote on the 2018 budget. This was my 8th budget as a Councilmember and it proved to be a challenging one. With many admirable programs deserving funding within the balanced budget, we had hard decisions to make.

I approached the budget with four key priorities and had success in each category:

First, Increase Affordable Housing options: I set a goal of having 1000 more stable indoor housing units up and operational in 2018.  We are investing $30 million immediately—based on best practices and results based accountability principles —  and more housing is on the way.  We know what works to improve conditions for people who are homeless:  simply put, more housing.  Following on Pathways Home recommendations, I am supporting a pipeline of fast-tracked options, from more 24/7 shelter, additional managed encampments, a targeted landlord liaison program as well as new possibilities such as modular-built projects on public land, detached dwelling units (DADU’s) on private property and tiny homes tailored to meet individual needs.  With community support, we will identify or create units and we will move another 1000 people off the streets of Seattle and indoors.

Second:  Increase Youth opportunity and Public Health Programming:  We secured funding to support the building of a homeless youth opportunity and housing center on Broadway and Pine. Working with Speaker Frank Chopp, Seattle Central College and local non-profits, we identified key real estate near the College where youth and young adults can gain the education and skills training to get good paying jobs as well as providing them with the housing and services necessary to take their next steps.

As part of my work with the Seattle/King County Board of Public Health, I worked diligently with my colleagues to expand public health services within our Downtown neighborhood by funding a full-time medical prescriber for our medically assisted treatment programs available at the 4th Avenue Public Health Clinic. Expanding our medically assisted treatment services such as buprenorphine-on-demand  is critical in our fight against the opioid addiction crisis. We are finally treating addiction like the disease it is, and I am proud to work alongside my King County colleagues to provide regional services and treatment they people need.

We also funded a public outreach nurse who will support the work of the Navigation team, and will help connect people on the street with the services and help they need. By providing medical help to homeless neighbors where they are, we can serve them better and avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency ward.

Third, Support our Fire Arm Surrender Program.  With Seattle’s leadership, our region is developing a program that will serve as a model statewide. I want to thank Chris Anderson in the City Attorney’s office, Dan Satterberg in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and retired-Judge Anne Levinson for laying the ground work for this critical program. Removing firearms from domestic abuse perpetrators means protecting victims and making a community safer. A March 2017 study by Everytown For Gun Violence, found that over the last seven years, 54 percent of mass shooting cases involved domestic or family violence. This gun surrender program is a coordinated approach between the Superior Court, District Court, and Municipal Court.  It WILL protect domestic abuse survivors and save lives from gun violence.

Fourth, Expand Mobility Options and Reduce Congestion in District 7. My office worked with the Mayor, SDOT and Council Central Staff to ensure pedestrian improvements and walkability along the Market to MOHAI corridor between Pike Place Market and the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) along Western Ave, Bell St, and Westlake Ave N. I want to thank the entire Market to MOHAI Steering Committee, which includes the Downtown Seattle Association, the South Lake Union Chamber of Commerce (SLUCC), Belltown Community Council, Pike Place Market, MOHAI, Seattle Parks Foundation, Friends of the Waterfront, the South Lake Union Community Council, Google, Amazon, Vulcan, Facebook, Argosy, Visit Seattle, Clise, and many others for your commitment to the livability of these growing neighborhoods. And especially, I want to thank John Pehrson, my personal hero for mobilizing the community and turning his vision of multi-modal and green connections such as Bell Street Parkway and now Market to MOHAI into action.

I am also happy in this budget to support the work we have started with SDOT and the University of Washington around Freight Mobility and Alley Congestion. I look forward to the freight and mobility report planned for July, 2018 to identify tools and best practices to reduce alley congestion and traffic clogs in the Downtown core.

Regarding the Employee Hours Tax:  I am pleased we agreed to identify needed additional revenue sources for homelessness projects through a collaborative community process.  I believe good policy is crafted through a thoughtful process that starts first with defining and agreeing on the needs and problems to be solved, identifying the funding gap, and then raising revenues to meet the needs.  I do not support an approach that raises revenues first and then decides on how the money will be spent.

I believe a good policy approach requires the appropriate people – those with experience and those who would be taxed – to be at the table over the course of several months, NOT just nine Councilmembers making a hasty decision over the span of two weeks. It requires analysis and vigorous vetting to limit the number of unintended consequences. For example, ensuring organizations like Horizon House, a retirement and senior community that employs 310 people to care for their seniors, shouldn’t be burdened with an increased estimated cost of $38,750 per year without assurance of some benefits in return.

I wholeheartedly agree we need additional progressive revenue sources and I plan on working with my colleagues and the community to achieve our goals over the next several months.

Lastly, I want to recognize and thank my legislative aides Alberta Bleck, Brian Chu and Alyson McLean.  They work hard for District 7, and are the upbeat voices you hear when you call my office.  As always, please contact me with your suggestions and recommendations for positive change.  If you want to learn more about the City’s 2018 proposed budget and process, here is a link to the City’s budget office website.  I will update this blog when the final executive summary is completed.


All the best,


Sally Bagshaw




Seattle Must Do More to Help Former Prisoners Get Housing

We all need a second chance at some point in our lives. Many of us have done something in our past we regret. That said, our mistakes should not define us, especially when we’ve paid the price for what we’ve done.

Council Member Herbold has been championing in her Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee the “Fair Chance Housing” legislation, creating a policy that would give individuals who have been convicted of criminal offenses and completed their sentences another chance at getting stable housing. It would restrict landlords from considering convictions when deciding whether to offer tenancy to a person. In other words, a person who has served his or her term in prison will get a fair chance to get housing.

This is bold legislation. I support this approach because it is another step to help people acquire stable housing rather than dooming them back to the spin-cycle of the street to prison pipeline. We need this tool.
The level of incarceration in our country remains shockingly high. According to research offered by Professor Katherine Beckett at the University of Washington, nearly 25 percent of all the world’s prisoners are incarcerated in the United States. That percentage is higher than in China or Russia. “We’re number one” is not a badge of honor here.

From a race and social justice perspective, the statistics are even more alarming. The data varies from state to state, but the strong pattern is adult black males have felony convictions on their records five to seven times more frequently than adult white males. Arrests and convictions for drug-related crimes continue to be disproportionately frequent and severe for black males.

For individuals leaving prison with a felony on their record, their sentence never truly ends. Former inmates tell me they are penalized in so many ways: they struggle to find work, receive loans, gain an education, acquire social service benefits, or successfully reengage with the community they left behind when incarcerated. Race, class, gender and sexual orientation create additional barriers to success. The inclusion of the phrase “felons need not apply” in rental housing ads—or a door slamming before a conversation can begin—makes it nearly impossible to return as a fully participating community member.

This situation was made painfully clear to me by a 56 year old man named Carl who had come back to Seattle after years of prison time in Walla Walla. I met him through a re-entry program. He was full of hope. He held a high school diploma from a mid-west city but he whispered to me “I can’t read.” Clearly, he had been passed on and passed over much of his life. I spent time with him working on his reading and basic math skills. He was a smart guy. He looked for work; he looked for housing; he slept on his friends’ couches until they would put up with him no more. He wanted to find a two-bedroom unit so that he could bring his daughter to live with him. It didn’t happen.

Today in Washington, a landlord can use criminal records to screen tenants for up to seven years after the date the person is released from jail or prison. This is profoundly demoralizing for the person released from jail, because his or her jail sentence in effect continues on. It further contributes to our growing homelessness issues because people without options go back to the street.

 Being refused housing based on past convictions is especially unfair because empirical data fails to show that having a criminal record affects someone’s ability to be a good tenant. In fact, the reverse is true. Those returning from prison report they WANT housing. Statistics back this up. With a bit of coaching and a job, they can be responsible tenants.

Rather than further punishing those who have served their sentence, I want to try a new approach. I am committed to increasing our housing supply and working with landlords to get housing for those who have challenges. Programs are set up in prison offering good-tenant training to those who are returning. Part of our human services investments should expand these programs.

I am supporting the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, including the proposed amendments.

The Ordinance with amendments will allow more people to access housing. Under our proposed legislation, arrests that did not lead to conviction or convictions that have been expunged, vacated, or sealed may not be used to screen tenants.

 Under this legislation—even with the amendments—a landlord may conduct a credit check, evaluate prospects’ income, look at their tenant history, check references, restrict sex offenders, and remove a bad tenant. What they can’t do is ban a person solely because of the time served in prison.

Our current system is flawed. Passing Fair Chancing Housing, without a “look back” period will help get people stabilized, reunite them with their family, open doors for jobs, and help us heal from the epidemic of mass incarceration. It doesn’t solve every problem, but it will help those who have served their sentences—as well as their families—get a second chance.

The City Council plans to vote on this legislation this month. I will be voting yes.

***This editorial was originally published 8/7/2017 in the Stranger


Homelessness – Addressing the Immediate Crisis and the Path Forward

I frequently meet with neighborhoods to talk  about what we are doing to end homelessness.  This post — albeit lengthy — offers  updates you can share with your neighbors.  If you read this to the end and follow the hyperlinks, you may be surprised at how much is really happening and the scope of the efforts to solve the problem.  For starters, keep this regularly edited website Homelessness Response Blog close and you’ll be in the know about the latest actions.

In most neighborhoods in our city, the vast majority of us are housed and we are eating well.  In some parts of our city, however, pockets of poorly sheltered people are constant reminders that we are living the Tale of Two Cities.  Most of us live in relative comfort, and over 3000 of us are just trying to survive.  In tents.  In RVs and cars.  In shelters.   Seattle is home to both great opportunity and real despair.

Many housed neighbors call my office to say they don’t like to see the tents along the streets or in our parks.  I understand the desire to live in a city where poverty does not exist.  Yet this is what I have learned: people living in tents may have once been our neighbors, they may be our neighbor’s brother or a long lost cousin.  Most are seriously struggling, many with mental illness or addictions, and many simply can’t afford to live in a rental unit in this city.  It’s a rare family in our city who doesn’t have someone who needs assistance or who doesn’t have first hand knowledge with mental illness.  Those of us who have resources are fortunate.

I find myself in the middle of this debate: some Seattleites who are living comfortably are frustrated by the encampments and the mounds of accumulating garbage and debris associated with them.

Then we have the debates about the “sweeps” – and under which circumstances encampments can be removed from public property.  As I’ve discussed many times in the past, everyone needs housing and stability; yet no one has the unconditional right to camp at schools, on busy sidewalks, or in our parks so that public use is impeded.  That is the frame for the polarizing debate:  Many say “we’ve paid their taxes” and want to be rid of tents and RV’s. Others argue that until we can provide decent housing for everyone, people should have the right to sleep wherever they can find space.  Neither of these polemic views helps solve the bigger problem.

So, what’s being done?

We are building residential units in unprecedented numbers across the city, yet demand for affordable housing is outpacing supply.  In our full out effort to address the crisis of homelessness, we’ve connected with other cities across the nation to learn what they have done that is truly working to address homelessness.  We’ve consulted with national experts including Barb Poppe who authored our Pathways Home recommendations.

I’m quoting myself here: there’s no silver bullet to eliminate homelessness, but there is silver buckshot.  This buckshot approach is what we are doing and we’ve seen progress in 2017.

Here’s what’s changed:Anchor

1. Emergency Operations Center Activation and Homelessness Response:

Beginning in February, the City took a new approach to responding to unmanaged tent encampments and garbage and abandoned debris.

Five days a week, Monday – Friday, at 8:30 in the morning, police officers, outreach workers, city staff from the Human Services Department, Facilities Management, Transportation, Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle City Light, and King County staff from corresponding departments gather in the same room to actively problem solve around Seattle’s emergency homelessness response.   This is a “person centered” approach designed to implement the Pathways Home recommendations, and identify individuals on our streets.

In the past ten weeks, city, county, and social service providers have made significant progress on the following goals.

  • Mission 1: Make an additional 200+ safer living spaces available
    • The Navigation Center, a 24/7, low-barrier shelter, focusing on connecting residents with stable housing, is under construction and scheduled to open in the late summer.
    • 91 new spaces have opened in shelters and 24-Hour managed encampments
    • 175 new spaces are in development, including a new 100 person, 24-Hour shelter run by Compass Housing.
  • Special thanks to the private sector:  While the City and County have been leveraging levy and tax money to get more people stably inside, the private sector has stepped up and been amazingly generous to house more people.
    • The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation donated $30 million for  supported family housing. Mercy Housing NW will assume development responsibility.
    • Starbucks donated $4 million for operational expenses for Mary’s Place.
    • Amazon offered Mary’s Place the rent-free use of two buildings for shelter for women and children and has just announced that it will build permanent homes for residents of Mary’s Place in its new office tower on 7th and Blanchard St.
    • More conversations are underway with philanthropic organizations, and the business community is engaged in deep new ways.  It is making a big difference.
  • Mission 2: Reduce Trash
    • Seattle Public Utilities Department took on responsibility to clean up visible debris along our streets and highways.  In the past ten weeks, as street trash cleanup has been enhanced, 1793 tons of trash and debris have been collected from identified hot spots.   (To get a sense of how much that is, imagine the equivalent of 10 blue whales lined up head to tail).
  • Mission 3: Connect people with services and mitigate most hazardous encampments
    • The Navigation Team, consisting of police officers trained in deescalation strategies and professional outreach workers, meet with residents of unmanaged encampments and offer services and resources that meet individuals’ needs.  This is what is called a “person centered response.”
    • During this 10-week span, the Team made 933 contacts with 377 people.
    • 131 individuals have exited to alternate living spaces. To put this in context, between February – November 2016, using traditional outreach methods, 191 people moved from unmanaged encampments to alternative living spaces.   In the past 10 weeks alone, we’ve helped 131 move to other living spaces.
    • Here’s a lovely example of success:  One of our outreach teams located a woman living in the bushes around Golden Gardens Park.  She had been assigned housing, but didn’t know it because her case manager couldn’t locate her.  The Navigation Team found her and let her know that their records showed she had been selected for housing.  She has now moved into her new home.
  • Mission 4: Implement revised protocols for removals of encampments from public property
    • Under our new protocols, those who camp on busy city sidewalks or dangerous city streets are notified they cannot stay there.  If they do not move within a few hours after receiving notice, their tents are moved to storage.  The city recognizes there are significant impacts to individuals when their belongings are removed.   So, we have streamlined a process where people’s tents and belongings can be returned to them. Rather than storing stuff that is rarely picked up, the City will deliver property that was stored after an encampment removal back to its owner if the owner identifies the belongings and calls the designated phone number.   The delivery system was created to reduce the barrier to retrieving property.
  • Mission 5: Increase access to housing through the creation of the Housing Resource Center (HRC)
    • The expertise of the private real estate sector is needed to identify and make available existing housing units for people experiencing homelessness.  The city cannot build enough new apartments fast enough and affordably enough to address the demand for housing.  So a new program – building on previous success in other cities – is being implemented with the private sector, with the goal of devising new solutions.  Detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs), Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), designated rental housing through the Landlord Liaison Program and shared dwellings are all options that will get more people safely sheltered.
    • One goal of the Housing Resource Center is to identify and put units under contract that the city can designate and make available to hard-to-house individuals.  The city and county will offer a risk management pool to encourage landlords to participate,  make the landlord whole in case of a tenant problem, and provide a 24/7 case manager contact for the benefit of the renter and the landlord. Programs like this work in Hackensack, NJ, Salt Lake City, and Minneapolis.  We can expand our housing options following this model.
    • City staff is developing workshops to provide information to private landlords and property owners about the Housing Resource Center.
  • Mission 6: Engage the public and mobilize community response
    • The City organized and attended multiple meetings with business community representatives to discuss issues that result from people experiencing homelessness and who are in a health crisis within business districts.
    • If you are interested in joining the conversation, contact my office at or 206-684-8801.
  • Mission 7: Maintain Situational Awareness
    • It sounds like military command-speak, but it’s important.  By “maintaining situational awareness”, the City is measuring both the outcomes of the EOC activation and the costs to the City. Future decisions will be based in part on this information.
  • Mission 8: Employee training and communication
    • Renewed efforts are underway to train employees and contractors before encampments are to be removed.  The emphasis is on reaching out with compassion and real alternatives, protecting the safety of encampment residents, and deepening the skills of employees who do this work.
  • Mission 9: Communication with the Public

Anchor 2. Tiny Houses – Finding comfort in our managed encampments

I have frequently written about building tiny homes and how we can offer people experiencing homelessness a dry place out of the mud, out of tents , and into a secure place they can call their own – for now.

Tiny homes are one step toward a longer term solution.  They are not the final solution.

What they offer is an 8×12, insulated, dry space with a door and windows.  A space where a couple can stay together, their pets can join them, and they can lock their possessions indoors too.  These homes provide stability while we are building and acquiring more permanent units.

In Seattle’s new managed encampments, primarily dominated by tents, more tiny homes are being built. At the Low Income Housing Institute’s managed encampments at Othello, at 86th and Aurora, and in Georgetown these tiny home villages provide a modicum of safety and respect. An article in the Wall Street Journal acknowledged these tiny home communities are expanding in other cities as well.

Courtesy of Sharon Lee

Many volunteers are lending a hand.  Organizations and community groups are building a tiny home in one day or weekend and donating  the home to those who are running our managed encampments.   Late last month, I accepted an invitation from Dale Bright of Laborers Local 242 to build tiny homes with volunteers from many unions, including the Aerospace Machinists, Roofers, Concrete Workers, and Painters. By noon we had two tiny homes framed.  Roofs and doors were added in the afternoon and the homes painted and readied for delivery.  Our progress was captured in this short video.

In other examples, 21 homes were built in Olympia over one weekend at the 2017 Career and Technical Education (CTE) Showcase of Skills competition hosted by the Washington Workforce Board on March 27th. All homes were made using these guidelines and transported by the Teamsters 174, Boeing workers, and others to North Seattle’s newest encampment called Licton Springs.

Courtesy of Sharon Lee

Congratulations to the Career and Technical Education winners!

  • First Place–Rogers High School, Puyallup
  • Second Place–Raymond High School
  • Most Unique–Walla Walla High School/SEATech Skills Center
  • Model Home–Bates Technical College

If you or your group want to build one of these homes, or donate money for lumber and supplies, we welcome your help. We have space for up to 90 more in our new managed encampments.  Contact my office at (206) 684-8801 and we will connect you with the service provider.


3. Homelessness Needs Assessment — the results were surprising.

I have heard a version of the following statements over and over again:   “This is Free-attle, the police say their hands are tied, and people on the streets are molly-coddled.  They should just get a job.”

Our best data does not support these assumptions. These beliefs distract us from creating solutions because they are frankly wrong.

Last fall, we surveyed over 1,000 individuals living both unsheltered and living in our shelters and convened six population-specific focus groups. We wanted to know why people were homeless and what they needed to locate and stay in housing.  We hired Applied Survey Research, which has completed social research across the country, to do the work.  Data collected confirms that people experiencing homelessness in Seattle are largely from Washington State, they were living paycheck to paycheck, and with the loss of a job or a rent increase, they weren’t able to maintain their housing.


  • 93% of those surveyed said they would accept an offer of safe and affordable housing if it were available,
  • 41% are employed in some capacity,
  • 35% have graduated or completed some college,
  • 28% are aged 30 or younger.
  • 1 in 4 have history in the foster care system
  • 73% were last stably housing in Seattle or King County

You can read more of these  survey results here.

Some of the saddest circumstances related to kids on the streets.  Jody Waits from YouthCare told a group at a community event earlier this month that she had never, ever met a 17 year-old who chose to be on the street because it was a good life.  Many of the kids on the street are there because home is –tragically —  a worse option.  The kids were running from abuse or rejection.  And, as confirmed by my own anecdotal experiences, most of the youth want jobs.  They often need both technical work skills and soft skills because they have none.  Understanding the challenges that our homeless youth and young adults face is key to creating housing solutions that meet the needs of this specific population. I’ve learned that the best way to understand people’s challenges is to ASK them respectfully and directly. Don’t assume, ask.


4. Looking Forward: Pathways Home

Our focus for the remainder of this year is to create a homelessness services system that prioritizes connecting clients with stable housing.  This is the proven and data-supported “housing first” model.  It is imperative that people are able to obtain housing so that they aren’t stuck in emergency shelter or encampments. Under Pathways Home, Seattle has identified six priority actions, listed below, and this year we’ve made progress.

  • House 500 families living unsheltered
    • The City has created a Family Impact Team to case manage each family on housing wait lists.
    • In partnership with Mercy Housing NW and the Paul G. Allen Foundation, we are creating permanent housing with services for approximately 100 families.
  • Expand 24-Hour Shelter Options
    • The Navigation Center is under construction and scheduled to open this summer.
    • Compass Housing will operate at new 24-Hour shelter for 100 people.
  • Problem-solve wait lists for housing
    • The City has helped 14 people who were long-term shelter stayers find housing. These are people that have spent years in emergency shelter.
    • Each emergency shelter bed serves around 5 people per year so moving these 14 into housing opens up beds for 70 or so people.
  • Connect people to services
    • Creation of the Navigation Team which pairs police officers and outreach workers.
    • Outreach organizations worked together to create a comprehensive outreach plan.
  • Make more rental units available
    • The City has increased investments in rapid rehousing, which provides flexible funding for rental assistance and supportive services.
  • Ensure good government and performance
    • The City of Seattle, King County, and United Way, primary funders of the region’s homelessness services system, adopted new standards of performance and have been working with our human service provider partners to meet these standards.
    • This summer, the City will competitively bid our homelessness services system, around $30 million, for the first time in over a decade.
    • The new performance metrics will be included in all contracts between the City and its provider partners.

These actions are being coordinated through multiple city and county departments, agencies and programs.  I want to commend our Human Services Department, Office of Housing, All Home, and our King County partners for working collaboratively to move Pathways Home forward. We know that Seattle can’t do it alone. We need our county, state, and federal partners; unfortunately, the cavalry isn’t coming and we need to do our best to care for our residents through our own local efforts. I’m proud to represent Seattle’s values in caring for our community members, both housed and unhoused.