Seattle Releases New Draft Rules On Clearing Homeless Encampments

Jan 31, 2017

Seattle’s mayor has released new rules on how to clear encampments of homeless people. This comes as the city faces a class action claiming the current procedures are unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs in the case say current procedures to clear out homeless encampments violate property rights and due process because there’s not sufficient notice and people are often losing the few possessions they have. And they say rules released by the mayor in October didn’t work out as planned.

The new rules aim to fix some of those issues, for example by providing more clarity about when a so-called ‘sweep’ will actually take place.

Advocates for the homeless say this is an improvement, but more needs to be done.      

“Our main concern is about the flexibility of some of the standards and how they’re actually going to be applied in practice,” said Yurij Rudensky, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, a group that has worked intensively on developing an alternative proposal for the city.

He says more specifics are needed – for example, there’s a provision for immediately clearing out areas where there’s a hazardous situation that could risk injury or death for an individual.

“There’s nothing where the city provides an alternative safer place for that individual to go,” Rudensky said.

They also think the city’s definition of a camp that causes an obstruction is too vague. And he says the process for deciding which parts of the city can become "emphasis areas," where homelessness is not tolerated, is not clear.

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the city's Civil Rights committee, said there are many improvements in the new rules, including more objective criteria for deciding which areas of the city would be cleared to keep that process from being influenced by political favoritism. And the city would have no more than 10 of these so-called “emphasis areas” at a time, so that there is still some place for people to go when shelters are full. 

Herbold also said a provision to deliver belongings after an area is cleared if an individual is seeking to recover them, "rather than having there be multiple locations that are rather remote for people to have to go to to get their belongings."

The city is accepting comments on the draft rules through February 15.