Initiative to curb homelessness crisis in Seattle likely to qualify for November ballot

Tents line a street in downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / John Cook)

The group driving the Compassion Seattle electoral measure, which aims to revise city policy in relation to its ongoing homelessness crisis, will turn in more than 60,000 signatures Thursday to qualify the measure for the November election.

Supporters of the initiative will need 33,000 valid signatures from Seattle voters to put the city charter amendment on the 2021 ballot this fall, which will also host the city’s mayoral contest.

Upon receipt of the signatures, the town clerk’s office will forward the petitions to the King County Electoral Office to determine if the measure is an option.

Given the number of signatures, it seems likely that they will end up on the ballot, sources said. If it qualifies, Compassion Seattle would be one of the most controversial local voting drives in years.

A flyer against Compassion Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Supporters of the measure include the Public Defenders Association, Plymouth Housing and a coalition of business leaders in the city center. The effort, they say, is to force the city to fund a range of services and housing for thousands of the city’s unprotected residents.

The initiative would also require the city to “keep parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public squares and sidewalks and streets free of camps” once the mandatory housing, drug and mental health services are in place. The Los Angeles City Council is constantly pushing for similar rules to be introduced.

The debate over the measure comes at exactly the same time that major employers like Amazon are bringing workers back to their headquarters in Seattle’s business district, which has been hardest hit by the homelessness crisis.

Compassion Seattle: Is This The Way To Solve Homelessness? Technology, business and political leaders speak out

If the change is accepted by Seattle voters, the change will essentially bypass the city council and, for the first time, add specific benchmarks and responsibilities to the sometimes confusing, competitive and decentralized range of homeless services and programs in Seattle.

Under the proposed changes, the city would be legally required to provide an additional 2,000 units for emergency and permanent housing within one year of the start date of the change in January 2022.

But the measure has proven controversial, even before it qualified for the election, with some homeless attorneys supporting it and others contending that it is merely an attempt to encourage searches of homeless camps and criminalize homelessness.

During GeekWire’s recent Citizenship Talk about the measure, former Interim Mayor and Councilor Tim Burgess denied that Compassion Seattle criminalizes homelessness.

He called it a “compassionate, results-based action plan primarily (for) those who live exposed in our parks, playing fields and sidewalks across the city.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office estimates 2,000 people live on the streets of downtown, Belltown, and South Lake Union.

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