As an avid P-Patch gardener and longtime participant in the program, I receive all emails that go out to the P-Patch listserv. Usually, they have subject lines like “FREE Farm Talk & Tour” or “You’re invited to our Garden Gala on Sept 16!”
But the one I received yesterday was different. Subject-lined “Issues related to unauthorized encampments” and signed by P-Patch supervisor Rich MacDonald, the letter read,
Dear P-Patch Community,
Unauthorized homeless encampments and their impacts on neighborhoods has been a recurring issue, and we’ve heard from many of our P-Patch community gardeners in recent months.
How we manage Seattle’s homelessness crisis is a much debated topic in our city. What is clear is that we need to find solutions that are compassionate while also prioritizing public health and safety.
We wanted to make sure you were aware that there is a draft bill being put before the City Council on Tuesday that could limit the City’s ability to balance those two factors, effectively making it more difficult for the City to address various issues as it relates to unauthorized encampments.
While we work to address the root causes of homelessness and find long term solutions for our region, we also have an obligation to address and mitigate public health and safety risks in all of our neighborhoods.
As we know this is a topic of concern for you, we just wanted to encourage you to learn more about this issue and add your voice by writing or calling your city councilmember.
What strikes me about this letter, which encourages gardeners to write or call their city council members, is that it’s an unusually political use of a listserv whose primary purpose is to share news about gardening and gardening-related opportunities. By characterizing the legislation, which would protect unauthorized campers from sweeps and the confiscation of their property and is supported by homeless advocates and the ACLU, as a proposal to “effectively mak[e] it more difficult for the City to address various issues as it relates to unauthorized encampments,” this letter tacitly advocates against the legislation, and puts the Department of Neighborhoods, which has not expressed an opinion on the proposal, in the position of opposing the bill as well.
At least, that’s how I read telling people that a bill will make it “more difficult” for the city to “mitigate health and safety risks” facing P-Patch gardeners, and asking those gardeners to contact the city about that bill.
As someone who opposes the city’s rather heavy-handed approach to sweeps, I wouldn’t characterize my concerns about encampments as being primarily about their “impacts on neighborhoods,” but rather about the impact the city’s sweeps are having on the homeless people who are being swept from place to place with no offer of immediate housing or meaningful services. I would imagine that at least some of my neighbors share those concerns, rather than just the ones MacDonald flags in his email.
I’ve contacted MacDonald and will update this post when I hear back from him.