The city of Seattle expects to spend up to $1 million per year on a contract with private companies to perform cleanup services at homeless encampments and other “litter pickup,” according to public documents.
The figure comes from bid documents available on the city’s website for “Encampment and Other Related Cleaning Services.” Twelve companies responded to the bid, which closed on June 1. The contract covers services including garbage removal, disposal of bulky items, biohazardous materials and “other encampment waste,” according to the bid.
“The City expects to spend ... approximately $1 million annually on encampment and other related cleanup services,” according to the “Background and Purpose” section of the bidding documents.
“Service providers (SP) will provide comprehensive homeless encampment site cleanup and other litter pickup services to remove garbage, bulky items, bio-hazardous material, and other encampment waste,” it continues.
The city already contracts with five companies — Belfor USA Group, Inc.; Cascadia Cleaning & Removal LLC; Hughes Group LLC; Bubbers LLC; and Nikal Ventures US Inc. — for cleanup services, but with a contract executed under the state of emergency, which allowed the city to bypass the normal bidding process in the interest of time. This contract will last for one year, with the option to extend each year for a total of seven.
All five companies entered formal bids.
The amount does not include other expenses, such as staff time or the cost of police deployment. There is no complete figure despite repeated calls from the advocacy community and Councilmember Kshama Sawant for clarity on the price of the sweeps.
“This is tone deaf at a time when huge numbers of Seattle’s working people are urgently demanding humane solutions for, and an end to, homelessness,” Kshama Sawant said in a statement
The money is a misallocation of resources that fails to address the causes of homelessness and doubles down on a harmful policy, Sawant said in a statement.
“The sweeps have completely failed to address homelessness, which has increased dramatically over the years. Rather than put an immediate stop to this inhumane and ineffective policy, and directing taxpayer funds to homeless services and affordable housing, the Mayor is now proposing to outsource this failed strategy to the private sector to the tune of a million dollars,” Sawant said in a statement. “This is tone deaf at a time when huge numbers of Seattle’s working people are urgently demanding humane solutions for, and an end to, homelessness.”
The amount budgeted in the bid document is an estimate, not a guarantee, and the contractor will perform work for cleanups other than encampments, wrote Julie Moore, spokesperson for Finance and Administrative Services, which manages the cleanups.
Moore said the city selected the $1 million figure to provide context for the scope of the contract, not as a specific budget number. The contracted company will also collect illegally dumped materials where no encampment is present.
Although the company would be responsible for cleanup services outside of encampments, the language of the bid focuses on homeless encampments, going so far as to require at least a year of experience “doing encampment cleaning for private entities or other public agencies.”
City field coordinators will continue to perform most of the work involved with encampment cleanup, including assessing reported encampments, scheduling cleanups, supervising work in the field and ensuring that cleanup protocols are followed, Moore wrote. Removal of garbage may still be performed by city staff as well as the private company.
The bid documents also suggest that the city’s process around sweeps will change. A city employee will email the company to inform them of the location, dates and estimated size of the work crew. They’ll then fill out an “Encampment Estimate Form” that details the minimum labor hours and composition of the cleanup crew. Those estimates will determine the cost of the cleanup, which will be paid out in a lump sum.
That form is new, and will provide more documentation and information about the size and scope of homeless encampments that are swept in the city of Seattle.
The new contract represents another counterproductive expenditure to move unhoused people around rather than help them, said Reavy Washington, who works with local activist group Stop the Sweeps, which advocates for alternative policies that allow people to stay in place. Washington is also currently homeless. He thinks the city should use that money to pay homeless people to clean the areas in which they live rather than sweep them.
“Because if the city would invest that money into the encampments and into people’s lives — people live in these communities — if they invest in them they might get more out of them,” Washington said.
Seattle has a long history of sweeping homeless encampments, a practice that it began to document in 2008 with the
introduction of the Multi-Departmental Administrative Rules (MDAR), proscriptive guidance on how sweeps should be conducted.
Officials hold that the sweeps are necessary for the health and safety of homeless and unhoused folks because they allow cleanup of hazardous conditions and offer an opportunity to get people into shelter and housing.
The number of sweeps has been steadily increasing over the past eight years, and most dramatically since Mayor Ed Murray took office.
Opponents of the sweeps argue that the policy does little but move homeless people around, endangering what stability they have, confiscating their belongings and hurting their chances of getting out of homelessness.
Nevertheless, the number of sweeps has been steadily increasing over the past eight years, and most dramatically since Mayor Ed Murray took office. FAS recorded 609 in 2016, double the number of cleanups recorded when he was elected in 2013. These totals could go up in the wake of a revision of the MDARs that took effect in April, expanding the definition of a sweep to include an encampment of any size. Previously, an encampment had to have at least three tents to be recorded.
Real Change, Columbia Legal Services and the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia joined two women experiencing homelessness in a lawsuit filed against the city of Seattle over the sweep policies. That suit is ongoing in federal court.
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