TO: Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director, ACLU of Washington; Greg Rickel, 8th Bishop of Olympia, The Episcopal Church in Western Washington; Alan Preston, Managing Director, Real Change; Edward B. Murray, Mayor, City of Seattle; Patricia Lally, Department Director, Seattle Office for Civil Rights; Jay Inslee, Governor, State of Washington; Lisa Herbold, Bruce Harrell, Kshama Sawant, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez, Mike O'Brien, Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, and Lorena González - Councilmembers, Seattle City Council
Dear Ms. Taylor, Bishop Rickel, and Mr. Preston; Mayor Murray, Ms. Lally, Governor Inslee, and Seattle City Councilpeople:
We're writing with a proposed solution to the problem of clean-ups of homeless encampments. We call it Clean-up Work Parties (as opposed to 'sweeps' which sound like the disrespectful, terrorizing events they seem to have devolved into). Perhaps elements of this proposal could be part of a settlement of the lawsuit reported in today's Seattle Times. We don't have a way to reach Ms. Brandie Osborne or Ms. Lisa Hooper, but we're hoping that you might present these ideas to them, Ms. Taylor.
We're personally invested having recently lost my beloved grandson, Joseph McCommons-White, who lived outdoors for the past few years. His dearest friends still live on the streets and in abandoned buildings and cemeteries.
We want - as we believe all of you want - for them to have living conditions that are as safe as possible. We want - as we believe all of you want - for the communities around them to also feel safe. We want - as we believe all of you want - for their dignity, humanity, and human rights to be considered even as we help them keep their encampments sanitary.
We're new to homelessness activism and certainly naïve to the complexity of clean-up efforts, so perhaps all the ideas in our proposal have flaws you can tell us about, but here goes:
o What if we kept dumpsters and porta-potties at each place people typically camp?
o What if we had big, permanent signs at each place people typically camp saying when clean-up work parties would be held (say 10 am on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of every month at a particular site)? The city would commit to reliably following the posted schedules.
o What if, at those times, a truck would arrive at a site with small, lockable pods? Each camper would be offered a pod and would have 2 hours during which to fill it with whatever personal belongings they wish to keep.
o What if the city partnered with social service agencies so that a bus and a food cart would be on site as well, giving folks a warm place to sit and a warm meal to eat during the clean-up work party?
o What if, once people who were home at the time had time to pack and store their own belongings, remaining obviously usable belongings and photos and paperwork would be packed into a locked pod that would be left on the site with a commitment that someone would be there from 5 to 7 pm that same night to unlock it and dole out tents, etc. to those who missed the clean-up work party?
o What if, at say noon, all remaining trash was removed from the site and the porta-potties cleaned? Then folks were allowed then to retrieve their locked belongings to re-encamp?
o What if the city brought a dozen orange vests with them to each clean-up work party and hired up to a dozen residents of the camp, at minimum wage, to assist with the clean-up? If residents of the encampment are not available or interested, perhaps their neighbors and/or local churches or high school students would be. Whoever provided the labor could be paid in cash at the end of the day or could choose to donate their pay to the agency providing food that day.
o What if a health department mobile van was on site during each clean-up to provide basic physical health care to residents during their several-hour displacement and referral to treatment when appropriate?
o And in order to better serve the community between clean-up work parties, what if the City committed funds to double the number of Urban Rest Stops from 3 to 6 or to fund organizations like Aurora Commons, which served our grandson and still serves his friends with dignity and respect, so they could expand to offer the same services as the Urban Rest Stops at an additional 3 locations?
Of course, there would be costs involved in this program. Equally obvious to us is that the costs would be far less than the cost of providing permanent housing to all those living outdoors. That long-term solution should & MUST & be made to happen. In the meantime, however, this seems a reasonable, humane, respectful project that could be a boon, rather than a burden, in people's already chaotic, difficult lives.
We hope to hear back from each of you or your staff. And we hope you'll give serious consideration to negotiating this sort of solution.
Beth Reis and Barbara Steele
P.S. Those of you for whom we could not find email addresses will be receiving this letter via your online contact forms.
CC: Elizabeth Dahl, Executive Director, Aurora Commons; Krista Cossalter, Executive Director, Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets; Esther Lucero, Executive Director, Seattle Indian Health Board; Pamela Banks, President and Chief Executive Officer, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle; Melinda Giovengo, Chief Executive Officer and President, YouthCare; Tricia Romano, Editor-in-Chief, The Stranger; George Bakan, Editor-in-Chief, Seattle Gay News; Daniel Beekman, Staff Reporter, Seattle Times
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