Tim Burgess (bottom left), Rachel Smith (top right), Kieran Snyder (bottom right) and presenter Mike Lewis from GeekWire
There is no denying that Seattle is having a homelessness crisis; how to solve it.
In the midst of the fray is Compassion Seattle, an initiative attempting to rewrite the city charter with a roadmap that prescribes specific responsibilities for local government, including an obligation for the city to keep parks, playgrounds, sports fields and public spaces clear of storage as soon as possible Shelter, drug and mental health services are in place.
The plan, which supporters say is well received, is not without its critics. We discussed the initiative in the latest edition of GeekWire’s Civic Conversations, presented by Microsoft. We were joined by:
- Tim Burgess, former city council president and former interim mayor of Seattle who helped draft the Compassion Seattle plan.
- Rachel Smith, President and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
- Kieran Snyder, Co-Founder and CEO of Textio and winner of the GeekWire Awards 2021 as CEO of the year.
During the interview, Burgess characterized the measure as a “compassionate, results-oriented action plan”.
“First and foremost (for) those who live exposed in our parks, playing fields and sidewalks all over the city,” he said.
“We all agree that what is happening in Seattle right now is not working,” said Burgess.
If qualified for election and approved by Seattle voters, the change will essentially bypass the city council and, for the first time, add specific benchmarks and responsibilities to Seattle’s sometimes confusing, competing and decentralized offerings of homeless services and programs.
Related: Are Tech Workers Coming Back to Downtown Seattle? That’s what companies are planning
For example, under the proposed changes, the city would be legally obliged to provide an additional 2,000 emergency and permanent housing within one year of the start date of the change in January 2022.
It also mandates that Seattle provide access to behavioral health programs in addition to housing. Accommodation within the meaning of the charter amendment could include “improved accommodation, tiny houses, hotel-motel rooms, other forms of non-shared emergency or permanent accommodation”.
A flyer in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle encourages citizens not to sign up for a new initiative called Compassion Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)
Snyder said as a business owner who had most of her workforce in downtown Seattle prior to the pandemic, the part of the initiative she thinks is compelling is expanding services that don’t involve law enforcement.
“The idea of investing in housing and care services that are independent of law enforcement is what makes it all [Compassion Seattle] a promising range of solutions, ”she said.
Snyder said local businesses should also find a way to pay for additional housing and services.
However, critics of the measure have claimed that the initiative is merely an attempt to encourage searches of homeless camps and criminalize homelessness. Smith countered that the initiative requires the city to provide services and accommodation first. And only then can the warehouses be closed, she added.
“It really sets out clear conditions under which camps should be closed,” she said. “At the same time, there is no right for someone to stay in a public place permanently.
Check out the entire conversation here. This is the second in the series of Civic Conversations presented by Microsoft. Citizens’ Talks: Addressing the Public Order Challenges During a COVID Economy, First Panel featured: Gordon McHenry Jr., CEO of United Way King County; Chris Gregoire, CEO of Challenge Seattle and former Washington State Governor; and Kris Hermanns, Chief Impact Officer at the Seattle Foundation.