This morning, at the city council briefing, Council Member Sally Clark circulated a letter, addressed to Mayor McGinn, regarding the Nickelsville homeless encampment in Highland Park. All the council members except the two who have recently been working on homeless encampment legislation—that's Nick Licata and Mike O'Brien—signed it.
This letter, which West Seattle Blog has a copy of here, asks the mayor to direct the city's Human Services Department in planning and providing "immediate targeted outreach and engagement services to the Nickelsville residents along with immediate provisions of shelter, housing and other services." Citing "a public health and safety emergency," they ask that the plan be developed, implemented, and then Nickelsville be shut down, all by September 1, 2013.
As to the money that would cost, the letter says: "We recognize added resources may be required and, to that end, we will introduce legislation to authorize funding for this purpose." They do not say how much or where it will come from.
Licata, whose encampment legislation is still in committee, said in the meeting that he'd "just had an opportunity to see [the letter] this morning," and while he appreciated some of its positive notes about the work council has done to fund shelter generally, when it comes to Nickelsville, "council needs to recognize that we have some responsibility for them being on the site they're on, not just the mayor."
O'Brien pointed out that there are still people camping outside, even after the city has put resources into long-term housing, and wondered what exactly the signing members thought the city could do differently in the next 90 days.
Council Member Tom Rasmussen came out swinging hardest against encampments, saying "another encampment for the residents there is not an option." O'Brien asked him if that included a church hosting the camp, which would be perfectly legal under existing city law. Rasmussen replied that the city's plan "should be overall to reduce the number of people camping in Seattle," not allow new sites.
"I don’t know how we come up with 100 new units of housing on the next 90 days," said O'Brien.
Which is exactly the problem. If the city's been sitting on a bunch of quarters in its bureaucratic couch cushions that can suddenly now be spent on emergency shelter, great! So glad you found them, you guys! But it appears that the other council members kinda sprang this on Licata and O'Brien, and I don't see in the letter a concrete plan to make something happen.
If they do have a plan, it'll be interesting to see what it contains—who's providing these new beds, where's the money coming from, how are they going to get Nickelsville residents on board with the plan, since they've already said they want to find a new site for their encampment. And also, why the hell they haven't done all these apparently totally achievable things already, since this has been an ongoing problem.
I've reached out to the council and the mayor for comment, and I'll update when I hear back.