It has been six years since Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell declared Seattle a “Human Rights City.” To support this mission, the city must take steps to implement policies that are consistent with the 30 articles included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Specifically, in accordance with Article 25, the city must ensure everyone has the right to a standard of living that includes access to housing.
As any Seattleite can tell, the city is woefully negligent of its obligation to meet these requirements. Not only has the city of Seattle failed to pass meaningful budgetary reform that would begin to address re-homing efforts, but the city has also been wasting millions of dollars to chase homeless encampment residents from park to park, these frequent “sweeping” campaigns are counterproductive and nunnecesarry.
According to the One Night Count in January (the only reliable estimate available to city policymakers regarding the number of unhoused people), there are 12,112 unhoused people in Seattle. The large number of unhoused people in the city illustrates that Seattle has failed to meet its obligation under Article 25 of the UDHR.
The policy of sweeping homeless encampments — forcefully separating from their makeshift residences, only to have residents re-establish the encampments at a later date, often at the same location —demonstrates an unwillingness to address the economic inequities related to homelessness. It’s morally reprehensible and a waste of money.
The Human Rights Commission Subcommittee on Housing and Homelessness has been observing encampment sweeps to document the effects they have on residents. The experiences we have recorded from those individuals tell a story of a misguided city policy that further traumatizes our homeless neighbors while doing nothing to resolve the crisis they are in. One individual we spoke with said he had been swept six times in two weeks, a process that frustrates and destabilizes those with nowhere else to go.
The experiences we have recorded from those individuals tell a story of a misguided city policy that further traumatizes our homeless neighbors while doing nothing to resolve the crisis they are in.
The city’s chronic sweeps have contributed to a worsening morale among residents, who report that the chaos caused by destabilization increases aggression, between residents, fighting and increased violence. No one we spoke with said the sweeps resulted in their receiving assistance with housing or access to diversion programs, which would meaningfully address the chronic homelessness that the city seeks to eradicate.
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How much money are we spending to not help? According to public records, Seattle spent more than $10.2 million on removals of homeless encampments in 2017. Encampment residents acknowledge that without proper services, such as trash pickup and sanitation, it can be difficult to manage the cleanliness of the camps. One resident wondered why the right to camp in wild or mountainous areas is well-funded, but the city seems incapable or unwilling to extend those same basic services to urban parks with dedicated campgrounds. The solution, however, is not to punish residents, but to provide services that would allow them to exercise their basic human right to live safely.
The city’s current policies only make the housing crisis worse, and are inconsistent with what is expected of a Human Rights City under Article 25 of the UDHR. What would help these individuals is simple: Affordable housing, effective social service outreach and garbage pickup.
What would help these individuals is simple: Affordable housing, effective social service outreach and garbage pickup.
These are all recommendations that we have heard from the residents themselves, and would positively impact the lives of those who remain unhoused. Let’s stop wasting money and violating the basic human rights of our most vulnerable citizens. Let’s focus on policies that work.
In order for the city to remain compliant with its own Human Rights goals, and demonstrate its ability to exercise fiduciary responsibility in a time of crisis, Seattle should immediately end the encampment sweeps and invest in activities that more effectively address the homelessness crisis.
— City of Seattle Human Rights Commission
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