They’ve been in the works since this summer, but new rules of conduct for removing homeless people’s possessions from urban campsites are still on the drawing board. And until they’re finished, City Council president Nick Licata wants Mayor Greg Nickels to halt the police-led sweeps.
The city stepped up the operations earlier this year, taking what one staffer called a “proactive” approach to 10 camps considered by Seattle police to be highly visible (“Swept but still dirty,” Oct. 31). They gained the attention of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness this summer when one man was reportedly threatened with arrest if he tried to retrieve his belongings from a city-owned greenbelt during a clearance. Another man camping in Queen Anne’s Kinnear Park told advocates that a uniformed Seattle police officer slashed his tent to pieces with a machete and dragged his sleeping bag into the rain.
Having caught wind of the city’s efforts to create a new encampments policy, the Coalition on Homelessness sent a letter to the mayor Sept. 13 asking to participate; SKCCH got no reply for more than a month, says coalition director Alison Eisinger. Now, homeless advocates may be part of a committee charged with giving a seal of approval to the newly written rules. Human Services Department staffer Al Poole says that group may hold its first meeting in December.
City officials said the rules were nearly done in late October. Why the hold-up? The Law Department weighed in, saying earlier precedents need to be considered, says Poole: “We are going back and going to look at all the ordinances that are on the books.”
The last rules on the clearance of urban campsites were written up in 1996; they state that private property will be stored for retrieval later on. Currently, city employees and offenders supervised by the Department of Corrections cart people’s possessions off to the dump, sometimes with no notice.
Licata is asking his peers to sign onto a letter calling for a moratorium on the camp clearances. You can do the same: go to www.realchangenews.org and click on “Take Action.”