Category: Housekeeping

Help Fund PubliCola in 2023

By Erica C. Barnett

To all of PubliCola’s readers: Happy new year, and thanks for your continued readership and support.

Before I get into our annual roundup, I want to take a moment to thank all of the readers who make PublICola possible by contributing financially to keep us going. For seven years, I’ve been running this site full-time with the help of a talented crew of writers (including former police reporter Paul Kiefer, now working in public radio) and PubliCola co-founder Josh Feit, who edits, wrangles our legislative coverage, and writes the Maybe Metropolis column) and hundreds of supporters who believe in the value of independent local media.

I say this a lot, but PubliCola literally would not be possible without reader support; we are ad-free, independent, and funded entirely by contributions from readers like you.

If you want to help PubliCola continue growing and thriving in 2023, please take a moment RIGHT NOW to make a one-time or sustaining contribution by going to Paypal, Patreon, or Venmo (erica-barnett-7). You can also send PubliCola a check at PO Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104.

Or read on to find out more about why PubliCola is an indispensable resource in Seattle’s media landscape.

In 2022, PubliCola continued to break stories that legacy media either missed completely or picked up weeks later.

In February, we broke the news that the King County Homelessness Authority planned to use private donations to fund efforts to “dramatically reduce” visible homelessness downtown, a week before the formal announcement received cursory coverage in  the mainstream press. This effort, known as the “Partnership for Zero,” will be an ongoing story in 2023, when the KCRHA will reach its informal deadline for reducing the number of unsheltered people in downtown Seattle to “functional zero.”

We broke the news that people incarcerated at the King County Jail had no access to running water. Our initial story was picked up nationally, but we continued to follow the story long after the mainstream media stopped paying attention.

We also broke the news that the KCRHA and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development were operating a new, emergency operations-style “housing command center” to facilitate the Partnership for Zero’s goals, a month before the mainstream media reported on the official press release.

In April, we were the first to report on findings that Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability routinely waved off mask mandate violations by Seattle Police Department officers, dismissing the practice as a “cultural issue” rather than a public health violation. As we exclusively reported, the state Department of Labor and Industries fined SPD twice for failing to maintain a safe workplace by requiring masks.

Later in the year, we learned that people incarcerated at the King County Jail had no access to running water, because of an unknown problem that was causing the water to come out of taps cloudy or brown. Our initial story was picked up nationally, but we continued to follow the story long after the mainstream media stopped paying attention. The staffing shortage at the jail, which we covered throughout the year, could come to a head in 2023.

We also went deep on issues like homelessness, policing, and the criminal legal system.

When the city decided to remove a large encampment from Woodland Park, we were the only media outlet to explore what happened behind the scenes. Our reporting revealed that an event the city heralded as a model for future encampment removals was actually an ad hoc, last-minute response to an unanticipated threat—one that proved only what the city can do if it prioritizes a single encampment over the thousands of people living unsheltered across Seattle.

As the Harrell administration ramped up encampment sweeps to a pace that rivaled Jenny Durkan’s pre-pandemic peak, people living in vehicles were especially vulnerable. In addition to ramped-up RV removals that continued even during the summer’s hottest heat wave, the city towed away vehicles whose owners went to great lengths to remove them—even when the only result was to turn a vulnerable person living in their vehicle to a vulnerable person living in a tent.

In May, we profiled a homeless man who was engaged in case management and getting ready to move into a new apartment when the city pursued him on years-old shoplifting charges, disrupting his progress and dumping back into a criminal legal system that had already failed him dozens of times.

In 2021, we were the first outlet to report on private businesses’ use of concrete “ecology blocks” to prevent people living in their vehicles from parking on public streets. Last year, we continued to cover the proliferation of these war zone-style barricades, focusing on the Seattle Department of Transportation’s ongoing refusal to enforce the law making it illegal to place barriers in the public right-of-way.

Homelessness and crime were often intertwined in Seattle residents’ minds, and our coverage often explored the ways in which punitive approaches to low-level crimes committed by homeless or unstably housed people can fail to produce the desired results.

For instance, Mayor Harrell’s “Operation New Day“—a crackdown on drug and shoplifting offenders in the Chinatown-International District downtown—succeeded primarily in pushing low-level criminal activity across the street or around the corner, rather than addressing the root causes of the criminal activity or markedly reducing crime.

When city attorney Ann Davison successfully pushed the Seattle Municipal Court to exclude such “prolific offenders” from community court, which directs people to services and case management, critics saw it as another step in a backlash against people whose crimes stem from homelessness, mental illness, or just plain poverty.

In May, we profiled a homeless man who was engaged in case management and getting ready to move into a new apartment when the city pursued him on years-old shoplifting charges, disrupting his progress and dumping back into a criminal legal system that had already failed him dozens of times.

We followed the city’s slow, halting progress toward creating alternatives to police response for some emergency calls—a plan birthed in the aftermath of 2020’s protests against police brutality and stalled ever since.

We reported exclusively on the Durkan administration’s decision to ignore a law placing an expiration date on police hiring bonuses, a decision that had financial and legal ramifications for the incoming Harrell Administration.

We literally can’t do this work without you; donations from readers like you are the way we pay for every aspect of this business, from wages to office space to the costs of running the website itself. To support independent, local journalism, please make an ongoing or one-time contribution today by going to Paypal, Patreon, or Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7), or send us a check (made out to PubliCola) at PO Box 14328, Seattle, WA. 98104.

And we wrote extensively about the planned closure of King County’s youth jail, which County Executive Dow Constantine pledged to shut down by 2025, a deadline that seems increasingly tenuous given recent increases in the number of incarcerated children and the county’s renewed focus on the staffing shortage at the juvenile jail.

As always, we also covered important stories about density and housing (including Leo Brine’s ongoing coverage of last year’s pro-density agenda in Olympia and Andy Engelson’s widely read piece on design review), transportation (Lizz Giordano’s pieces about the debate over a future Sound Transit rail station in Chinatown and unpaid fines for illegal Spokane Street Bridge crossings during the West Seattle Bridge closure were two of our most-read stories of the year), and (continuing, for example, our dogged coverage of Sound Transit’s efforts to crack down on “fare evaders” on light rail trains).

And, of course, we brought you comprehensive coverage of the 2023 city budget (and how it reflected the Harrell Administration’s priorities) the 2022 elections, and stories that got little or no coverage elsewhere but are important to us (and, judging from our readership numbers, you).

We told you about the candidate for Seattle Public Library director whose spotty reputation at his previous job included running a big-city library system from 2,000 miles away; the drawn-out Seattle City Council redistricting fight; the city’s parks and housing levies, which both stand to double in the coming years; and the debate over whether Seattle libraries should allow library staff to use Narcan to reverse overdoses (a debate we’re proud to say we played some small role in resolving, simply by shining a light on the issue).

We even found time to start a podcast with our friends Sandeep Kaushik and David Hyde, (listen and subscribe to Seattle Nice here), run thought-provoking columns by the likes of PubliCola co-founder Josh Feit and Katie Wilson, and make endorsements in key local elections (coming up: Initiative I-135, on the ballot next month!)

We literally can’t do this work without you; donations from readers like you are the way we pay for every aspect of this business, from wages to office space to the costs of running the website itself. To support independent, local journalism, please make an ongoing or one-time contribution today by going to Paypal, Patreon, or Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7), or send us a check (made out to PubliCola) at PO Box 14328, Seattle, WA. 98104.

Happy new year, and thanks for your support.

End-of-Year Ask: Help PubliCola Expand!

As the editor and publisher of PubliCola, I’m reaching out to you, our readers, with a big ask: Help us expand our coverage in 2022 by making a generous one-time year-end contribution of $200, $500, or whatever you can give to help independent local journalism continue to thrive in Seattle.

Throughout 2021, PubliCola has been the city’s must-read site for political analysis and election news. We’ve provided skeptical, nuanced coverage of Seattle(and failures) to help, house, and provide for the basic needs of people living unsheltered during the pandemic; documented the ways in which efforts to “defund” the city’s police department collapsed under political pressure and a lack of oversight; and covered efforts by state legislators to pass a statewide capital gains tax and other progressive measures. We’ve also focused our wonky lens on the still-ongoing debate over Sound Transit’s punitive fare enforcement policy; published in-depth features that illustrate the need for police accountability; and helped frame the debate around the failed “Compassion Seattle” charter amendment.

We’ve even expanded our opinion coverage, adding Josh Feit’s urbanist Maybe Metropolis column to the mix alongside guest opinion pieces from local thought leaders like the Transit Riders Union’s Katie Wilson (and, of course, my own periodic column The C Is for Crank.)

And we’ve done it all with a small and scrappy staff—reporter Paul Kiefer, 2021 legislative reporter Leo Brine, a rotating set of freelancers and interns, and me—from our tiny office in Pioneer Square. We’re tremendously proud of the work we do to keep the region informed and engaged. But there’s much more we would like to cover in the coming year, and with your help, we will. Specifically, we’re seeking contributions to help us:

– Increase existing staff capacity to cover the Seattle Police Department, King County Sheriff’s Office, and the courts;

– Hire a reporter to cover the upcoming state legislative session;

– Double down on City Hall coverage during the Harrell administration by increasing our freelance budget; and

– Expand our coverage of transportation, growth, and displacement in the post-COVID era.

Our work is supported, primarily, by ongoing subscriptions—recurring donations—through Patreon and Paypal. Subscriptions are literally what pay the bills around here month after month, and we’re so grateful to everyone who helps us keep the lights on. For this year-end request, we’re asking you to make a special one-time contribution of $200, $500, or whatever you can give to fund the kind of journalism you can’t get anywhere else. Your generous support keeps this reader-supported website going and growing. Please make a generous contribution to independent journalism today on Paypal, Venmo, (Erica-Barnett-7) or by sending acheck to PubliCola at PO Box 14328, Seattle, WA. 98104. We truly appreciate your support.

—Erica C. Barnett 

PubliCola is Hiring!

PubliCola is seeking an intern for a part-time, paid position in our newsroom.

This is a very hands-on position for someone who’s interested in research, reporting, and writing about local news. Job duties will include all of the following: Conducting interviews, reading legislation and court documents, research, going to public meetings, and writing short news items and stories. We’re looking for someone who’s fearless and comfortable learning on the job, so a passion for local journalism is more important than prior reporting experience.

Qualified candidates will be available for a minimum of 15 hours a week, including some evening hours. Please send a resume and previous clips or a writing sample, along with a brief note about why you’re interested in this position, to

Help PubliCola Expand Our Police Accountability Coverage

Nine months ago, as Seattle leaders began reckoning with the legacy of police brutality, racially biased policing, and the results of ongoing disinvestment in Black and brown communities, we asked our readers to help us pay for a part-time reporter to cover police accountability in Seattle.

We couldn’t have gotten luckier in hiring superstar reporter Paul Kiefer to cover this crucial beat. Since Paul came on board, he’s brought readers in-depth and breaking-news coverage on every aspect of the accountability beat, from efforts to defund the police and invest in community-based alternatives, to participatory budgeting, the process by which the city plans to replace some police functions.

In nine months, Paul has also written feature-length pieces about alternatives to policing, the impact of police shootings on victims’ families, and the future of the youth jail in Seattle’s Central District, among many others. 

We want to continue and expand this coverage, by keeping Paul on staff after the one-year funding period for his position ends and by bringing him on full-time to cover this important beat, including the upcoming Seattle Police Department contract negotiations.

To do that, we need your help, so please consider making a one-time or recurring contribution to maintain and expand this important coverage. There are lots of ways to contribute, including Paypal, Venmo, by making a monthly donation on Patreon, or by sending a check to PubliCola at P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Just make sure you note that your contribution is for our police-accountability coverage so we can make sure it goes directly and entirely to fund this position. Thank you so much for your ongoing support for the work we’re doing here at PubliCola.

A Look Back at the Work PubliCola Contributors Made Possible in 2020

This year has been tough, terrifying, and trying in many ways. But it has also been, surprisingly, a time of exhilarating growth and change for me, personally, and for PubliCola—starting with the fact that this website got a new name and look this year, along with a new staffer, police-accountability reporter Paul Kiefer.

Those with long memories will recall that PubliCola began all the way back in 2009 as one of the pioneers of online-only local news in Seattle, so being able to publish under the name again, after five years as The C Is for Crank, felt like coming home.  Hiring a reporter to cover the movement for Black lives and the city’s fitful progress toward police accountability was another exciting change, one that required a leap of faith—would readers who come to this site to read my work respond positively to the addition of new voices, new coverage areas, and new perspectives?

Obviously, I didn’t need to worry; our readers have been immensely supportive of the changes, and have been particularly impressed by Paul’s work, which has included extensive coverage of the divest/reinvest movement, police brutality, and participatory budgeting, among many other topics that couldn’t be more timely. I want to thank everyone who reads the site regularly or occasionally, or who follows us on Twitter (@ericacbarnett, @publicolanews, and @faruq_kiefer, if you aren’t already) for reading our work, offering constructive feedback (, and keeping us accountable.

We also couldn’t do this without financial support from individual readers. I know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover the entire city of Seattle and much of King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, no secondary businesses behind the scenes.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options.

PubliCola truly is different. We cover the entire city of Seattle and much of King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, no secondary businesses behind the scenes.

Need more convincing? Here are a few of the stories PubliCola covered in depth over the past year.

• The debate over putting homeless people in hotels. As the city reeled during the early days of the COVID pandemic, Mayor Jenny Durkan and her Human Services Department resisted moving unsheltered people into the relative safety of hotel rooms. The issue wasn’t money per se, since—as PubliCola reported exclusively—the city spent millions on hotel rooms for first responders that wound up sitting empty for months on end, costing millions of dollars and helping no one.

At the same time, Mayor Durkan deflected urgent requests from programs like Co-LEAD—a COVID-era diversion program whose emergence PubliCola covered extensively this year—to allow them to use emergency dollars to relocate people from the street to hotels. 

Although the city is finally moving to lease hotel rooms for people living unsheltered, Seattle’s shelter of first resort has remained the kind of mass, or congregate, shelters the Centers for Disease Control explicitly recommends against, on the grounds that COVID spreads most readily within enclosed spaces, even when people are sleeping six feet apart. Over the year, we covered this debate exhaustively, documenting the dangers of congregate spaces as well as the city’s (and state’s) resistance to the kind of shelters recommended by health experts. The future of the city’s congregate shelters, including the downtown Morrison Hotel shelter operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center, remains unclear.

• The city was equally slow to provide safe places for people experiencing homelessness to take a shower—a basic amenity that the city council funded in 2019, but that the executive branch didn’t act on until it was too late. By the time the city finally located two shower trailers—rentals trucked in from California, rather than the purchases the council funded last year—COVID had driven up prices to levels many times higher than other cities, and King County, were paying for similar hygiene units.

• Access to restrooms was also a serious issue for people living unsheltered this year, one that PubliCola covered obsessively in the early days of the pandemic. Many public restrooms the city claimed were open were actually closed and locked, as PubliCola discovered by driving to restrooms all over the city, and the mayor’s office initially resisted providing additional portable restrooms on the grounds that they were too expensive and that people were vandalizing them.

• Homeless encampments continued to be a major story this year, as the city grappled with how to handle large groups of unsheltered people living close together in public spaces. The Navigation Team reversed its policy of removing most encampments without notice and began to focus primarily on outreach (its ostensible purpose) but still led a number of high-profile sweeps—notably in the International District and the Ballard Commons, two areas where housed residents and business owners complained about the impact of people living in tents.

Large numbers of police showed up during both removals, holding back protesters in the larger International District sweep in a preview of the protests that would begin a few months later. PubliCola was on the scene at all these sweeps, interviewing encampment residents and officials and documenting the removals on camera. We also covered the aftermath, including a tense meeting at which the senior deputy mayor and police chief outlined a litany of reasons they believed it was necessary to remove encampments even as housed people were ordered to continue sheltering in place.

• In May and June, as protests over the murder of George Floyd sparked a reckoning about the role and actions of police in Seattle, PubliCola was on the story, covering Durkan’s and then-police chief Carmen Best’s often ham-fisted response to the demands of protesters and the city’s own police accountability bodies.

We also fact-checked the mayor and police chief during the early days of the protests, when they held near-daily press conferences to justify their use of tear gas, pepper spray, and other weapons against protesters on Capitol Hill. The excuses could be baroque: At one point, Durkan claimed that she had seen “homophobic graffiti” in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone—graffiti that turned out to consist of slogans like “Dykes for BLM” and “fags against cops.” At another, Best claimed that access to tear gas could have saved the life of a person who died from a gunshot wound in the protest zone.

• In July, we hired Paul Kiefer to cover police accountability, and his very first big story was a major scoop. In it, he identified the victim of a police shooting that had flown under the radar, a homeless man named Terry Caver. The story led to a profile of Caver based on his family’s recollections, and a renewed interest in the case among police misconduct investigators at the city,

• More great stories from Paul followed, including an in-depth look at the potential impact of cuts to the Seattle Police Department unit that investigates domestic violence cases; a feature on a community-based violence intervention program highlighting the promise and limitations of such programs as a replacement for police; ongoing coverage of the push-pull debate over what it means to “reimagine policing” or “defund the police”; a feature on the “car brigade” that has continued protecting protesters despite arrests, impoundments, and other targeting by police; and a slew of stories about the participatory budgeting process being led by King County Equity Now.

• Meanwhile, we continued to cover the city budget debate, which became unusually heated over the summer as Mayor Durkan issued two separate vetoes of the council’s budget plans. The council ultimately overturned both vetoes).

The first attempted to undo a spending plan for the JumpStart high-earners’ payroll tax, which the council intended to fund COVID relief in its first two years, and housing and homelessness programs thereafter. As we reported exclusively on PubliCola, the mayor had other plans for that money—she wanted to use it in 2021 to fully fund $100 million for unspecified future spending “on BIPOC communities” that she had promised to Black communities, specifically, during the summer’s protests.

Ultimately, Durkan didn’t get the entire $100 million, but some other interesting things happened between the summer and fall. Durkan’s second veto would have nixed the entire 2020 rebalancing package the council adopted in August, on the grounds that the package (which was necessitated by a COVID-related budget shortfall) cut the size of the police department too much. The council reversed that veto, too, and shortly thereafter Durkan adopted a more conciliatory approach to the council and their proposed 2021 budget, including a new compromise approach to encampment outreach that will be tested as the city begins to reopen next year.

Beyond these big, ongoing coverage areas, PubliCola broke news and went in-depth on dozens of others stories, including: The sudden closure of a dilapidated hotel on Aurora Ave. North that had been housing dozens of formerly homeless residents, many of them for years; the debate over reforming fare enforcement at Sound Transit; the scramble to count unsheltered people during this year’s chaotic Census; the decision by a number of suburban cities to opt out of King County’s sales tax for homeless services, a story PublICola broke; and the city’s decision to hire a controversial activist as its “street czar” at a cost of $150,000, among many others.

And we brought in PubliCola’s original founder, Josh Feit, to write a new columm, Maybe Metropolis, focusing on urbanist issues like  nightlife, live music, and Seattle’s reconsideration of its “neo-suburban” land use model.

Again, we couldn’t have done any of this work without the support of generous readers who contributed to PubliCola’s growth and success this year. If you enjoy the breaking news, in-depth coverage, opinion and analysis, and other work we do here, please contribute what you can to help us keep going and growing next year and beyond. Thank you for reading, and for your support.

The City Funded Hygiene Trailers Last Year, But Never Bought Them. Now It May be Too Late. Plus More COVID News


1. The city of Seattle has been unable to procure the four hygiene trailers promised by the Human Services Department in mid-March because the trailers are in short supply nationwide due to the coronavirus epidemic, according to multiple sources. The trailers were added to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2020 budget by the City Council last November, but were not purchased by the time the COVID-19 epidemic hit Seattle full force starting in late February. The trailers, known as “mobile pit stops,” would give unsheltered people access to showers, restrooms, and needle disposal. There is a possibility that the city could rent trailers in the short term, but whether and when that might happen remains unclear.

The city did not immediately respond to questions about the delay sent early Wednesday afternoon.

Other cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have recently deployed additional mobile hygiene trailers to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness. (The addition of new hygiene services has been offset by the closure of mobile showers run by the nonprofit Lava Mae, which just announced it was suspending all hygiene services in San Francisco, Berkeley, and, LA because of the pandemic, saying that the company is “not equipped or trained to handle a pandemic.”)

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you.

Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

King County, whose epidemic response has been running parallel to the city’s, began purchasing mobile shower/restroom facilities between late February and early March, according to the director of the county’s Facilities Management Division, Tony Wright. The county has purchased at least a dozen of the mobile units, five of which were on display at a field hospital in Shoreline that the county has set up for groups of non-emergency COVID patients. The others are being deployed at hospitals and isolation sites on Harbor Island, at Harborview Hall on First Hill, in Bellevue, and at the King County Airport.

“It really was a case of, we’ve been through enough emergencies to know that we need to grab them early, so we grabbed them early,” Wright told me during a press tour of the Shoreline facility this morning.

The city council added $1.3 million in funding for mobile hygiene trailers to last year’s budget after a February 2019 audit found that the city provided far too few restrooms, handwashing stations, and showers for the thousands of unsheltered homeless people in Seattle. In early March, the city council approved the mayor’s declaration of civil emergency with a resolution urging the mayor to invest emergency funds specifically in mobile pit stops and handwashing stations.

Durkan announced last week that the city would place port-a-potties with handwashing stations in six locations, four of them in parks that already have public restrooms. The city of Los Angeles, in contrast, has 360 portable handwashing sites.


Locked restrooms at Little Brook Park in north Seattle.

2. In a press release touting the city’s actions on behalf of homeless people during the COVID crisis , Durkan’s office said that there are 128 restrooms open in city parks and community centers. So far, of 28 restrooms on this list that I have checked personally, and three that readers have checked (and verified by sending photos), 21 are open, and 13 are closed. These include not just restrooms in small parks in far-flung parts of the city but large community centers right in its heart.

The city must know, for example, that Garfield and Miller Community Centers—facilities that are being used as redistribution sites for existing shelter beds—are not open to the general public; the city is responsible for these sites, and the prominent “NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS” signs on every door were put there by the Seattle Parks Department. So it’s unclear why they have not updated their list of “open” restrooms—or, for that matter, unlocked the ones that remain inaccessible, like those at Little Brook Park in Northeast Seattle, Northacres Park near Aurora Ave. N., Salmon Bay Park in Ballard, Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill, or Brighton Park in southeast Seattle.

3. During this morning’s tour of the Shoreline facility, King County Executive Dow Constantine rebuffed questions about whether the county would effectively wall off the field hospitals and other facilities the county is standing up and surround them with security to ensure that no one can leave. (TV reporters, in particular, have been exercised over the idea that homeless people with COVID symptoms will “escape” from hospitals and isolation facilities, after a man left a motel in Kent that was being used as an isolation site.)

“There is going to be security at each facility,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “Each facility is not going to be surrounded by barbed wire. This is not how this works.” 

Constantine said the county was also working to add more “de-intensification” space for homeless shelters where people are still sleeping inches apart. The new locations, where people already staying in shelters are being moved so that they can sleep further apart, are still congregate spaces, raising the question of why—if the guidelines for housed people say we should all be isolating—the county couldn’t just put people who are capable of staying on their own in vacant hotel rooms.

Flor said the county has considered purchasing a motel for this purpose, but said that the county was relying on shelter providers such as Union Gospel Mission, and advocates such as Health Care for the Homeless, to do assessments and decide the best course of action for shelter clients. There is some debate among groups that provide shelter about whether most clients could live independently or need, in effect, supervision. This debate could come to a head as shelter capacity is stretched to its limit, and as more City of Seattle employees are asked to work in shelters.

A primary reason that the city says it has been unable to move many shelter residents out of their current crowded conditions is a lack of staffing—that is, there aren’t enough people to supervise shelter residents. Allowing people who are assessed and found capable of living independently to self-isolate in their own hotel rooms could help solve the overcrowding problem, but it would mean abandoning the idea that every person staying in a shelter needs to be watched over by a supervisor while they sleep.

100 Officers Trained to Implement Anti-Camping Rules as Navigation Team Expands to 7-Day Schedule

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office has confirmed that the city has trained about 100 members of the Seattle Police Department’s Community Policing Team (CPT) and bicycle patrol officers on how to implement and enforce the rules against unauthorized “camping” in public spaces, such as sidewalks, parks, and publicly owned property. The city recently expanded the Navigation Team to include two new field coordinators overseeing encampment removals and two new outreach workers, who will do outreach work previously performed by the nonprofit REACH, which is no longer participating in encampment removals.

“The CPT and bike officers have been trained to implement the existing [Multi Departmental Administrative Rules], which lay out when and how encampments can be removed), the encampment rules, and how to connect with the Nav Team,” Durkan spokesman Mark Prentice says. “People can remain in the public right of way but belongings that are obstructing… ‘pedestrian or transportation purposes of public rights-of-way’ are not allowed, which is why a Navigation Team member will be available to offer storage and/or services. … This additional effort by CPT and bike officers does not impact or change the MDAR or the City’s compliance with these rules.”

Perhaps unintentionally, the Navigation Team no longer creates a list of “weekly unauthorized encampment removals”; instead, the most recent version of this document refers to these removals as “relocations.”

Under Durkan, as I reported last month, the Navigation Team has shifted its emphasis and now focuses on removing tents and belongings that constitute an “obstruction” under the city’s rules. Once an encampment is deemed an “obstruction,” the Navigation Team can remove it without notifying residents or offering them shelter or services. Although, in practice, officers often do tell residents who happen to be around during these unannounced removals about available shelter beds, outreach workers and unsheltered people have told me that they’re less likely to trust uniformed police officers than social service workers who show up between removals and get to know them outside the charged environment of a sweep.

Empowering another 100 or so police officers to enforce the rules against camping will undoubtedly expand the city’s ability to remove unauthorized encampments without notice, but it’s unclear what the long game is here, or if there is one.

The original goal of the Navigation Team, when it was created as part of the city’s response to the homelessness emergency back in 2017, was to “work… with unsheltered people who have urgent and acute unmet needs,” by building  relationships with people living outdoors and convincing them to come inside (ideally, to new low-barrier, 24/7 shelters with case management and services). Today, the team still offers referrals to shelter and services, but much of their work involves removing encampments, cleaning up sites, and watching people move back in over a matter of days or weeks—a tedious process of, yes, sweeping people from one place into another in a seemingly endless cycle. (Perhaps unintentionally, the Navigation Team no longer creates a list of “weekly unauthorized encampment removals”; instead, the most recent version of this document refers to these removals as “relocations.”)

Since 2017, the Navigation Team has nearly doubled in size, from 22 to 38 members. In that time, the number of contracted outreach workers has stayed the same, while the number of police, management, and support staff has grown dramatically. (Currently, in addition to 13 police officers, the team includes three data analysts, one team lead, one encampment response manager, one outreach supervisor, one communications manager, an administrative specialist, and an operations manager). Empowering another 100 or so police officers to enforce the rules against camping will undoubtedly expand the city’s ability to remove unauthorized encampments without notice, but it’s unclear what the long game is here, or if there is one. The city has added some new shelter beds (including 160 mats in the lobby of city hall, which are accessible for just 8 hours a night and don’t include showers, food, or services), but nowhere near enough to meet the need. Last year, according to the latest Point In Time Count of people living unsheltered in King County, the number of people living in tents rose from 1,034 to 1,162 even as the count of people living unsheltered shrunk.

I scrambled back up the path, stumbling a bit on my way back to the accessible, level, and totally empty park. I can’t imagine whose “pedestrian and transportation purposes” anyone living in those brambles could possibly be obstructing.

This week (over the newly expanded seven-day Navigation Team schedule), 13 encampments are on the list for “relocation.” All but one have been deemed “obstructions” exempt from the notice and outreach requirements.

Over the weekend, I visited a couple of encampments. One had just been visited by the Navigation Team, which hauled away a dump truck full of refuse, including soiled clothing, food wrappers, and large items dumped on the site by people from outside the camp. At the base of the hillside where people had set up their tents, there were still piles of loose trash and scattered needles, along with several full purple garbage bags provided through a pilot city trash pickup program.

The second encampment was one that’s scheduled for removal as an “obstruction” next week. The site was in a lightly forested area along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., on the edge of an underused park that offers stunning views of downtown Seattle. I looked for the “large amounts of garbage, debris, and human waste” that the Navigation Team said were present at the site. It wasn’t easy to find signs of human habitation—from the park, the only way to access the place where people were living was by scrambling down a steep dirt hillside, or by bushwhacking through brambles and weeds to find a series of primitive trails. Eventually, I saw a beach umbrella, a mattress pad, and a few small piles of trash (but no human waste) that hinted that the area might be inhabited. I scrambled back up the path, stumbling a bit on my way back to the accessible, level, and totally empty park. I can’t imagine whose “pedestrian and transportation purposes” anyone living in those brambles could possibly be obstructing.

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