On the same day that residents at Camp Second Chance — an unauthorized tent community on a piece of city-owned property on Myers Way — received notice to vacate, Mayor Ed Murray sent the Seattle City Council a missive about how the city sweeps unauthorized tent encampments.
He wants to study it.
Murray, in partnership with Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, announced his intention to form a task force to review the rules that govern City Hall’s approach toward the cleanup of homeless encampments, a set of policies that homeless advocates feel unfairly punishes the homeless community without giving them a viable alternative.
Who will be on it, how it will be formed, what impact it will have and other details have not yet been worked out. Some nonprofits acknowledged that they know of the task force, but not much else. Murray wrote in the letter that he hopes the task force results in a set of policies that represents “a balanced approach that meets the needs of people experiencing homelessness and the needs of our neighborhood and business districts.”
“I believe we can do better for the individuals living on our streets,” Murray wrote.
Advocates have called for a revamp of the Multi-Departmental Administrative Rules (MDAR) — a set of city rules that govern the enforcement and cleanup of encampments — several times in less than a year. They contend that the existing rules are poorly written and enforced, leading homeless people to lose the few possessions they have and be kicked out of a site with nowhere to go.
Some of the basic requirements, such as providing notice before taking people’s belongings, apply only to camps with three or more tents, meaning those camping in one or two tents can have their belongings cleared with no warning.
The MDARs were put in place by former Mayor Greg Nickels. They identify tents and other unauthorized shelters as threats to public health and safety that cause unsanitary conditions, criminal activity and vandalism, among other ills.
Violating those rules can result in being banned from a city-owned property for a period ranging between seven days to one year, depending on past behavior.
For the time being, the MDARs are not going anywhere. As the task force coalesces and does its work, the existing policies will stay in place, according to the letter.