This photo was taken during construction of the Ballard tent encampment, one of three city-sanctioned homeless encampments.
This photo was taken during construction of the Ballard tent encampment, one of three city-sanctioned homeless encampments. Kelly O

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When I talked to Mayor Ed Murray yesterday about state senators' $1 million idea to clear the illegal homeless encampment known as "the Jungle," he repeatedly rejected the idea that the area should instead be made safer with sanitation services, as some have suggested.

"We're being told by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness [and by] consultants that Seattle seems to have a broken approach to homelessness that's focused completely on encampments and not on actually ending homelessness," Murray said. "So, porta-potties are neither here nor there because it's the wrong conversation to have."

Today, one of those consultants Murray mentioned explained her reasoning for opposing tent encampments in an interview with the Seattle Times (all emphasis mine):

Barbara Poppe, who led President Obama’s homelessness work from 2009 to 2014, believes officials should not be opening tent cities, she said in an interview.

Encampments are a real distraction from investing in solutions,” Poppe said. “You can see it takes a lot of energy to get them running and they don’t solve the problem. You still have people who are visibly homeless, living outdoors.”

The city has officially sanctioned three homeless encampments (sheltering 300 or fewer people total) and allows churches and nonprofits to run several others on private property. Most of the camps include both tents and tiny houses. The federal government has long been opposed to encampments.

I find it horrifying you have children living in encampments and that is somehow acceptable to this community,” [Poppe] said. “It’s just unconscionable to me this is a choice that’s been made here. That said, I understand there’s great pressure to have a short-term solution. But I don’t happen to think these encampments are the best solution.”

All Home Director Mark Putnam disagreed:

Mark Putnam, director of All Home, which coordinates homeless services among King County cities, disagrees. East Coast officials may not understand how many people are camping outside in West Coast cities, with or without sanction, he said.

“We’re very much aligned with what Barb is saying—this is the exception,” he said, of the Columbus, Ohio-based expert. “We know (authorized encampments) are safer (than the street). People aren’t getting murdered in (authorized) tent cities.

Read the rest of Daniel Beekman's story here.

As advocates have been saying for years, no one believes encampments are "the best solution" to homelessness. Support for encampments comes from a recognition that without them—due to a variety of shortfalls in our social safety net—people will still be sleeping outside. Likely, they'll be sleeping in more dangerous locations.

Murray has said repeatedly that the city can support tent encampments while also working toward more permanent housing and treatment. To do one without the other would be insufficient.