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What you should know about Seattleites without a home

We want to spend a few minutes today talking about one story this week that’s gotten a lot of attention: A homeless man named Michael L. Taylor was shot and killed by a police officer in The Jungle on Tuesday.

What’s The Jungle?

The Jungle, which the city calls the East Duwamish Greenbelt, is a three-mile stretch of land under Interstate 5 between South Dearborn Street and Lucille Street in Beacon Hill that was, until recently, home to an estimated 400 homeless people. In January, five people were shot there (two died, three were wounded), and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced he would shut down The Jungle and its residents would have to move elsewhere.

Where would they go?

That’s the question Jungle residents and some advocacy groups kept asking for months. No one had a good answer (spoiler alert: no one has a good answer). Despite this, the mayor set a deadline for everyone to leave the Jungle. That deadline was Tuesday, Oct. 10.

It’s Thursday, Oct. 13… is the Jungle shut down now?

This week’s shooting happened on Tuesday as the police were doing the final “sweep” of the Jungle. (A “sweep” is the process of forcing homeless people to leave their camps). While the city investigated the shooting, it paused the final “sweep” of the Jungle, then resumed it on Wednesday, Oct. 11. The two people left  there said they did not plan to leave.

Wow, this is a mess.

Yeah, we agree.

OK, what now?

Closing the Jungle is just one of many things the city says it’s doing to try and address homelessness in Seattle. (At last count, an estimated 2,942 people were sleeping unsheltered in the city.) There is one recent proposal from Councilmember Mike O’Brien you might have heard about that has gotten a lot of pushback. More than 17,000 people have signed a petition against it and the mayor is not a fan. But there’s been a lot of misinformation going around, and it doesn’t help that O’Brien and Councilmember Tim Burgess don’t agree on what exactly it will do:

 

OK so what’s the proposal?

In a nutshell, O’Brien’s proposed ordinance would let homeless Seattleites camp in public spaces EXCEPT spaces that are considered “unsafe” or “unsuitable,” like school grounds, sidewalks or maintained park areas. And the homeless could camp in these public spaces as long as there are no other “adequate” housing options available to them. (It’s on the city to define what “adequate” means).

So what exactly are the two sides of the argument?

Councilmember O’Brien says his proposal would focus city resources on the most problematic encampments while the city works on long-term housing solutions for the homeless. Councilmember Burgess thinks that sanctioning homeless encampments — even in limited public spaces — would take the city down a dangerous path. (And then, as of last night, there’s a new proposal from Councilmember Sally Bagshaw that places even tighter restrictions on where encampments can exist). This, from Dan Beekman of The Seattle Times, should clear up any other questions you have.

Wow, that was a ton of info and links, Evergrey.

We know. It’s a lot. So here’s our humble suggestion: If you do anything, make 15 minutes to listen to the first part of this show (hosted by Bill Radke of KUOW). It features O’Brien and Burgess going head to head on O’Brien’s proposal. At the very least, this conversation gave us an appreciation for how complex and frustrating this debate can get — and how important it is for us to keep having it.

OK, what can I do?

Wow, you’re still with us? Cool. The City Council will be discussing the proposal Friday at 9:30 a.m. You can attend at City Hall or watch via live stream here. You can also reach out to your councilmember to let him or her know what you think.

This post was originally published in the Oct. 13 edition of The Evergrey newsletter.

By Anika Anand
Anika Anand is a cofounder of The Evergrey. She previously worked at The Seattle Times Education Lab and Chalkbeat.