A campaign to shift Seattle’s policies on housing and homelessness is gathering steam and using the run-up to the November election to push candidates to take bolder positions on housing production and homeless encampment sweeps policies.
The Housing for All campaign, backed by a coalition similar to the one that successfully secured a unanimous vote on Seattle’s income tax, grew out of the premise that housing is a human right and the current response to Seattle’s homeless residents is ineffective and inhumane.
The campaign focuses on three pillars: boosting the amount of affordable housing for deeply low-income people that the city plans to produce, expanding the shelter options for people currently experiencing homelessness and stopping the sweeps of homeless encampments.
The platform is a holistic approach to the problem, said Katie Wilson, general secretary with the Transit Riders Union (TRU), a group that has pushed for increased, lower-cost transit within the city.
“Stop the sweeps is not enough,” Wilson said.
Housing for All makes specific demands. Its proponents want to increase the amount of affordable housing that the city plans to produce from 6,000 units to 24,000 units in the next 10 years, direct resources to emergency shelter including encampments and allow unauthorized encampments to stay in place if there are no safe alternatives.
Supporters are pushing this message at a particularly fertile time — the run-up to November covers election season and Seattle’s budget process.
On the phone at 3 p.m. on Sept. 21, Wilson noted that it was the precise time that mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan was holding a press conference about her housing plan. The night before, Durkan had appeared at a community forum alongside her opponent Cary Moon. Wilson and other members of the coalition were also there.
“We’re making the issues something they have to respond to,” Wilson said.
Big-ticket items like housing will require buy-in from those currently running for office as well as the seated council members who will be working on the budget first and then legislation. That makes this the moment to push both for innovative ideas from how to fund big-ticket items like housing, to how to change city policies to better respond to the homelessness crisis.
Organizers are hoping to get a resolution or statement of legislative intent to commit the city in some way to increasing affordable housing production, and to make headway on legislation to halt sweeps and protect vehicle residents, Wilson said.
They’re fighting for it through a sustained presence at campaign events, email writing campaigns and frequent meetings to keep the campaign moving forward.
Established advocacy organizations like TRU have been joined by a newer pack of loosely affiliated groups called Neighborhood Action Coalitions (NACs). There is a nac for every City Council district. The groups began organizing after the November 2016 election of Donald Trump as progressives began brainstorming a response, said Travis Thompson, a member of the District 3 NAC.
Many of the NACs have since gone on to work directly on issues surrounding people experiencing homelessness, such as providing meals in public places and sweeps. Thompson has attended many of the major sweeps himself in an attempt to support unhoused people.
The experience drove home to him a central issue that is also part of the Housing for All platform — sweeps are destructive and do nothing to solve the underlying causes of homelessness or the problems of trash buildup and unsafe conditions found at some encampments.
“I think that, to the extent possible, homeless communities need to be provided what they’re asking for in place without pushing them out of their homes and communities outside,” Thompson said. “There are times that perhaps the city could provide services like trash receptacles for certain things. It should further stabilize communities that are being built.”
Campaign participants are a diverse crowd. At the Housing for All launch on Sept. 9 at the Labor Temple in Belltown, speakers told stories of their experiences with homelessness, of their intersecting identities and their hope to make Seattle a place where all people could live and thrive.
George Sidwell, a Real Change vendor who lives in his vehicle, took to the stage to make his remarks. The campaign is close to his heart, Sidwell said a couple weeks later.
“The way they’re doing things as far as car camping and stuff now just isn’t working,” Sidwell said. “We need a better way.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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