All the candidates vying for mayor except for Colleen Echohawk have remained consistent in their positions on the shady Compassion Seattle charter amendment. Originally, Echohawk enthusiastically supported the amendment. Now, she's adamantly against it. What changed?
At the end of March, Compassion Seattle announced its plan to write homelessness response strategies into the city constitution. The plan, its lack of funding, and its loose language around encampment sweeps concerned homeless advocates. On April 3, Echohawk came out with a 3,500+ word Facebook post in support of Compassion Seattle.
Echohawk, who was the executive director of the Chief Seattle Club at the time, wrote that she was "very hopeful that this initiative represents a turning point in homeless policy in Seattle after years of inaction and failure." Chief Seattle Club, Echohawk said, had "helped co-lead negotiations" and strategic development for the initiative.
Her statement continued: "This initiative represents a fundamental shift from where we’ve been. It actually treats the homeless crisis like the emergency it is... The fundamental policy in the initiative mirrors the homeless plan I have been advocating in my campaign for mayor."
Fast-forward a month, and Echohawk's opinion starts shifting. At the end of May, Echohawk expressed some doubts about the initiative to Crosscut, citing the amendment's failure to identify a funding source and its "insufficient connection to people who have been homeless themselves." Though she hadn't "decided how she personally will vote if the amendment makes the ballot" at that time, she did say she was "glad someone is doing something."
Just two days later, at a mayoral forum on homelessness, Echohawk fervently rebuked Compassion Seattle. She called it "bad policy," again citing the funding issues and a lack of consultation from those with lived experience.
Back in her original statement praising the amendment, Echohawk argued that Compassion Seattle "dedicates significant resources to emergency rehousing. And prohibits sweeps unless there is a place for people to go."
During the Stranger Election Control Board's mayoral endorsement meeting last week, I asked Echohawk about her 180.
Echohawk said she initially supported Compassion Seattle because "leading experts around homelessness were supporting this initiative and they were working on it." She mentioned Daniel Malone, the executive director of the Downtown Emergency Services Center; Paul Lambros, the chief executive officer of Plymouth Housing; and Derrick Belgarde, Echohawk's replacement at the Chief Seattle Club.
Here's her answer on the topic:
The draft that I saw looked pretty decent, but as things kept churning and churning and churning, there was a couple of things that happened.
First: The language around sweeps are too ambiguous. People are interpreting it in too many different ways, and I also feel like changing a charter is just strange and I’m worried about the precedent that will set for the city.
Second, and this is the main thing: The Lived Experience Coalition reached out to me and they said, 'We’re worried about this.'
The Lived Experience Coalition is the group of homeless and formerly homeless people who advise King County's Regional Homelessness Authority. The group expressed concerns around the amendment in a The Stranger report from the beginning of April. Erica Barnett reported none of the people involved in crafting the amendment had consulted with the coalition in mid-April.
"I sat down with them," Echohawk said during the meeting. "We talked two or three different times and they said, 'We are so stressed.' That was it for me."
Echohawk did not know exactly when she met with the coalition and did not reply to a follow-up email about the meeting dates. A representative for the coalition did not immediately return a request for comment.
UPDATE: Both Echohawk and LaMont Green from the Lived Experience Coalition confirmed that they met on April 8th and April 15th after this story was published. That first meeting took place a week after Echohawk's pro-Compassion Seattle Facebook post and two days after The Stranger reported on homeless advocates' concerns with the amendment.
While the initiative underwent changes since its announcement, those changes only softened the language in the amendment, specifically in the section about homeless encampment sweeps. Throughout its iterations, Compassion Seattle never changed its policy goals or its position on sweeps. The only significant development with the amendment is public opinion. In the time since Echohawk's shifted, the ACLU of Washington came out against Compassion Seattle and homelessness advocates formed a campaign opposed to it.