Harrell Says He’ll Implement Key Provisions of “Compassion Seattle” Measure, Clear Encampments

By Erica C. Barnett

At a press conference a few hundred yards from an encampment in Woodland Park on Thursday morning, mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell said that if elected, he would implement the key elements of Charter Amendment 29—the “Compassion Seattle” ballot measure. A King County Superior Court judge tossed the initiative last week, agreeing with opponents that things like budgets and land use policy are outside the scope of local ballot measures, but the campaign appealed to the state court of appeals, whose ruling could come tomorrow.

Harrell’s “Homelessness Action Plan” would require the city to spend 12 percent of its general fund on homelessness, build 2,000 new emergency housing (shelter) beds within one year, create individualized “service plans” for every person experiencing homelessness, and, as Harrell put it, “ensure that our city parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces, sidewalks, and streets remain open and clear of encampments.” These proposals are all identical to provisions of Charter Amendment 29, which Harrell supported.

At Thursday’s event, which was billed as a press conference but resembled a campaign rally, Harrell fielded questions primarily from a large group of supporters rather than the assembled press. “If and when you become mayor, how soon can we as Green Lake citizens expect to see these encampments gone?” one supporter asked. “I will say January or February, because I work with a sense of urgency,” Harrell responded.

“They are not mean-spirited people. They’re simply asking a very fundamental question: Can our parks be safe again? … Can our children play like they once did?”—Bruce Harrell

Another asked how he’d respond to critics who say that his plan would mean sweeping encampments without providing services. “Look at my record,” Harrell responded. “There are no dog whistles. I don’t have a dog whistle. And I say, how dare people say that, when my wife and I’ve been doing this for for 20, 30 years.”

Harrell also reiterated his proposal to create a city-run program that would give people the opportunity to volunteer or give tax-exempt donations to nonprofits working on homelessness, which he also described at a press conference outside an encampment at Bitter Lake in June. “Everyone can chip in—it could be clothing, it could be resume assistance, it could be anything that exhibits an effort to help the problem,” he said.

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Harrell said he understood why Green Lake residents are fed up with people living in the park, where the largest concentration of tents and RVs is located in triangle of land bordered roughly by Aurora Ave. and a portion of West Green Lake Way. The city closed the street to traffic as part of the Stay Healthy Streets program during the early months of the pandemic, and some residents blame the closure for the proliferation of tents. “They are not mean-spirited people. They’re simply asking a very fundamental question: Can our parks be safe again? … Can our children play like they once did?”

His plan for removing people from parks, however, remains vague; in response to another supporter’s question about how he would deal with “the majority of the people that are camping here [who] don’t want assistance,” Harrell said he would deal with people “on a case by case basis,” depending on their needs.

“I have the executive authority [as mayor] to direct mental health counselors and housing advocates down here, I have the executive ability to bring down individualized case management experts down here, [and] I have the ability to once again allow traffic and then have a conversation with the community to see what kinds of improvements down here can be made.”

But his promise—which would put the city at cross purposes with the new regional homelessness authority, which is taking over all the city’s contracts for homelessness-related services next year—came with a hard edge. “I just think that there has to be consequences for that kind of action,” Harrell said, referring to people who don’t accept the services or shelter they’re offered, “because many people—and I’m very close to the world of people struggling with drug and alcohol treatment, people that have challenges—many of them are in denial. Many of them do not know what they need. They just do not.”

More than one local pundit has bemoaned the fact that high school cross country running coaches have apparently moved their training events from Lower Woodland Park to other parks in the city so that—to quote a column by local cross country dad Danny Westneat—”Lower Woodland is not safe for children to run in.” Harrell mentioned that his kids, too, ran cross country, and that the encampment is “denying [young people] not only tradition, but denying healthy, youthful activity.”

As Harrell spoke, people walked dogs and ran with strollers along Green Lake in the background. A hundred yards further, and up a path leading to the lawn bowling courts on the north end of the park, unsheltered people were washing their hair, working on motorcycle and RV engines, and waking up for the day. Several people said hello as I walked past their tents. It was hard to deny the crisis the people living at Green Lake were facing, but harder still to see how a small increase in spending on homelessness, including a couple thousand new shelter beds, would make it possible to remove them (and every other unsheltered person in Seattle) without forcing them to go. 

20 thoughts on “Harrell Says He’ll Implement Key Provisions of “Compassion Seattle” Measure, Clear Encampments”

  1. This city has tested my liberal progressive limits, and I am tired of the characterization that by supporting policies that combine providing BOTH affordable housing AND social services ALONGSIDE cleaning out encampments (for safety, hygiene, security, and yes, aesthetic reasons) is a conservative program that lacks compassion. That’s bonkers. You can do both, and reporting on it as if there’s a binary solution is irresponsible. And don’t get me started on the “defund the police” terminology. Many of us support police REFORM and reallocation of budgets; but liberal activists continue to use the term DEFUND the police which is a mischaracterization of the intention of the movement. It hurts the cause, but I digress.

    Honestly, if some people don’t mind having our unhoused neighbors in our public parks and sidewalks, then please raise your hand to house and support them on your private property in your backyard and home. That actually might be the most neighborly and compassionate thing to do, and then, the city could pay individual households a stipend for assisting and supporting our unhoused neighbors to offset any costs. Seriously, along with providing social services, job training and affordable housing, the city could match our unhoused neighbors with volunteers who could take them in, support them through the process of getting back on their feet and provide a monthly city stipend for doing so. Let’s test our true compassion and see how many neighbors would volunteer to assist homeless people directly by inviting them to live with you in your home and support them as they transition to independence and sustainability. I might vote for such a proposal!

    And not that it should make a difference but I am a liberal progressive (always have been), an immigrant from Southeast Asia (yes, knowing which part of Asia matters; we are not all the same.), and I grew up in a very poor, working class family. As a side note, the fetishization of identity is gross, but activists like to know who they’re speaking to so they can check and see if they have, what I like to call, “identity credibility” to see where I fall on the marginalized spectrum, and hence the aforementioned description of who I am — for the benefit of those who care and who fetishize (looking at you, liberal activists).

    I am tired of both liberal activists and conservatives who constantly try to put a wedge between people on a variety of issues, and present solutions as binary. Please, stop it.

    I’m an undecided voter, and am waiting to read fair, objective reporting to make a decision. I didn’t vote for either Harrell or Gonzalez in the primaries, and frankly, am not a fan of either candidate. I’m also not inclined to vote for a candidate who asks for more money to solve this issue. There’s plenty of money (especially with the federal funding that’ll be coming in); officials need to spend it better.

    1. Except those are not doggy turds in the grass. Way too big. So send your own children to Woodland or Green Lake. Show us how much you like it Bryan. Steve Willie.

  2. “Can our parks be safe again? … Can our children play like they once did?”

    Classic Seattle response, right up there with “But where am I supposed to *park?*”

    “Why isn’t Seattle like it was when I was a kid? I could park right in front of Frederick & Nelson and do my shopping. But now I never go to Seattle, it’s too dense…”

    Maybe think about the future instead of the past in the Jet City…what was the name of the World’s Fair in ’62? Century 21? Whatever happened to that kind of thinking?

    1. Paul: You want to think about the future of Seattle? Go to YouTube and search: “Philadelphia Kensington Station” Bingo! Seattle’s future, that people like you helped to create. You will be so proud of your contribution. Steve Willie.

  3. Harrell’s solution is apparently to provide more free shelter and/or free housing. I am keeping a list of all the great Harrell-Sawant free stuff you can get now in Seattle. I am up to 30-35 different kinds of free stuff. How can a problem created by handing out too much free stuff to those on a bad plan be solved by handing out even more free stuff to those on a bad plan? As I have said numerous times on this forum, that only makes the situation worse…and I have been proven correct many times already. Had enough Seattle? Steve Willie.

      1. I will provide a 2-part answer:

        1. Give them bread and circus (politicians are buying votes with promises of more free stuff). I don’t know who is promising less free stuff. I won’t be voting for any of them.
        2. Cutting back on the free stuff is very problematic at this point. It would create riots by those who think they are entitled to free stuff paid for by the productive class. See what Progressives have done? It is literally too late to cut off the free stuff. They have created a monster. That is the reason why I can and have predicted how this ends to those on this forum. “That which cannot go on like this forever……won’t” Steve Willie.

  4. This article gives the impression that school track coaches are moving their events from Lower Woodland Park, apparently because of some antipathy or fear of the homeless. According to Westneat’s column and other reports, the city denied event permits there. Also, the apparent perplexity that there’s any conflict between homeless and park users on a sunny day is contradicted by the reports of users being harassed at dusk and dawn there, and the reports of people dumping their waste in Green Lake. This park was set aside and developed so that working class and middle class people should be able to enjoy some semi-natural recreation in their leisure hours, not for it to be colonized as a free campground.

  5. It’s worth a little context here.

    For a long time, encampments in parks were routinely met with sweeps. This is nothing new.

    Early in the pandemic, following recommendations by the CDC, sweeps mostly stopped. Most, if not all, encampments in Seattle parks postdate this. The encampment in Woodland Park, specifically, seems to have been created by the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation in summer 2020 as a place for people then camping in Green Lake Park next door. (I say this because the parks department specifically warns people who rent shelters that electricity and water are normally not turned on, but the shelters the Woodland Park encampment focuses around do offer electricity and water. Someone at the parks department had to turn those on before anyone would be willing to move there from Green Lake.)

    The pandemic continues, even though sweeps have ramped up again. At least these sweeps usually feature notice, which sweeps under the current mayor usually didn’t before the pandemic. Notice makes sweeps much easier on both campers and sweepers.

    I think the current sweeps are premature, but I also think once the pandemic is more or less over, unsheltered homeless people will have to adjust to being less visible again. The question isn’t about that, but about how many unsheltered homeless people will be left. (And my personal question, whether I’ll be one of them.) I always knew sleeping in parks, near banks, and any number of other places was a dumb idea, and I always cleared my stuff every morning and re-built my bed every night. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who take a year and a half of permission as a God-given right. It’s been nice while it lasted, and permission to sleep in parks certainly made my year of writing about them easier, but all things end, and the end of this one is approaching, probably no matter who gets elected.

  6. You’re glossing over the fact that Lower woodland has been closed to the public for over a year. W. Green lake way has been closed for a year too removing access to 3 parking lots at green lake park. It also removes a major traffic thoroughfare that was used by 11,000 cars per day. We are a rich city and we need this dealt with – with urgency so the homeless can wash their hair with clean safe water and live in a safe place that protects from the cold and rain. Continued inaction is not an option.

    1. A city with a lot of rich people, lots of wealthy tech millionaires as well as landowners/rentiers, is not the same as a rich city. Private wealth doesn’t mean there is money for public services. I agree with you on the need but the means just aren’t there, given the tax structure in WA.

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