Mayor Mike McGinn has transferred authority for the city's response to homeless campers out of the high-level Office of Policy Management and into the Human Services Department. There, the policies are under some revision: Homeless Intervention and Block Grant Administrator Al Poole says social-service outreach workers will visit nearly all campers before they are asked to move.
Poole says he is also requiring that written notice be posted at least 72 hours before every sweep on city property. Under the two-year-old encampment protocols, the city may sweep an area with no notice, and remove all items, after people have been observed camping there at least three times in a 60-day period.
City officials created multi-department administrative rules in April 2008 to deal with incidents of homeless people camping out on properties managed by the city Department of Transportation, the Parks Department, Seattle Public Utilities and other agencies. These rules, says Poole, are not being rewritten.
"We won't be making changes to the basic legal [terms] but we can do a number of other things," he says, "and the mayor's office has indicated a willingness to do that."
Poole says that in the next three weeks he will convene a meeting of advocates for the homeless to take suggestions on how the city might change the encampment response.
"The whole thing is a work in progress; I do not expect to get where we want to be next week. A lot more outreach is being done now than was being done before."
Outreach workers offer homeless campers a berth at a 40-bed shelter in lower Queen Anne; city records show that the shelter has been at an average of 89 percent capacity since February 2009.
When the McGinn administration gave his department authority to manage the encampments, "They were very clear that they wanted Human Services to humanize the policy, but at the same time they did want to implement and continue the protocols."
The changes don't affect land controlled by the Washington State Department of Transportation, such as areas under or adjacent to freeways.
Poole says hearing complaints about urban campsites from local residents "has helped me have an understanding for the neighborhoods' point of view, to balance these interests."
Sometimes a small improvement -- getting a person to take up less sidewalk space, for instance, will make the complaints stop. "From that perspective, my real intent is to not let things get really bad so there's a major impact" on the homeless.
"So we're going to try to establish a protocol where we're working with it all the time on a consistent basis," he says. "I do hope that we get a policy that both the advocates and the people who care about the encampments can really respect."