Scholars, advocates, policymakers and people experiencing homelessness converged at Seattle University on April 14 to talk about how local policies and land use decisions could be used to combat the growing crisis around homelessness.
The event, hosted by Seattle University law professor and Homeless Rights Advocacy Project lead Sara Rankin, attempted to examine local government’s approach to vehicle residency, tent encampments, the use of land by religious organizations and the opening of new housing units by changing existing codes.
The goal was to bring people with expertise to the front of discussions and brainstorm solutions to roadblocks that ultimately perpetuate a system that denies some people access to basic, life-sustaining necessities such as shelter.
Shelter became the focus of the day — how to create more options in a city constrained by high housing prices and ingrained policies that seem aimed at depriving people of shelter they already have, such as their vehicles, and preventing them from forming their own communities in tent encampments.
RELATED ARTICLE: America’s love affair with property fails to recognize its troubling origins
Jennifer Adams, a former vehicle resident and member of the Scofflaw Mitigation Team, described a typical day, a schedule that ensured that her home, a van she called Becky, would be safe from law enforcement.
“Waking up to pee in a bucket, showering with baby wipes when not near the gym,” Adams began. “Dodging ever-growing 2 – 5 parking signs.”
She described the necessity of maintaining her vehicle at night in order to hide it from people who might call the police on her, and having to choose between a shower appointment and working that day.
“Feeling like I got the ripped-off version of life.”
“Feeling like I got the ripped-off version of life,” Adams said.
The Finding Space event may not directly result in policy change. Some policies envisioned in the sessions have already been tried, but face significant opposition from other elements of the Seattle community.
Still, it provided an avenue for advocates to gather and discuss in solidarity. Many knew each other, or knew of each other, but had never met in person.
Over a lunch of soup and salad, community advocate and former mayoral candidate Cary Moon described a hopeful path where like-minded people came together in the name of changing systems so that people with less privilege are able to maintain a life in the city that they call home.
“A city can be killed quickly,” Moon said. “We can’t allow our creative Seattle to be killed by too much money.”
Changing social attitudes and the rise of young organizers schooled outside of traditional liberal and neoliberal thought can turn the tide, Moon said.
“We have the ability to make the change that we need,” Moon said.
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. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Wait, there's more. Check out the full April 18 - April 24 issue.