Gutted Tent City Bill Too Limiting

Seattle’s city council met on Tuesday to discuss amendments to a bill that would house a portion of the city’s growing homeless population. The legislation, proposed by Mayor Ed Murray, would create three new encampments in the city.

Under the bill, these and future encampments would be prohibited in residential zones. At Tuesday’s meeting, city council member Kshama Sawant put forth an amendment that would allow environmental review on residential neighborhoods to see if they could be potential sites for encampments in the future.

The amendment was initially thought to be a done deal, but it lost by one vote, according to local blog Seattlish.

The decision was troubling. Residential zones comprise the vast majority of Seattle’s land area. The only broadly commercial swaths of the city are SoDo, sites along the Duwamish river, parts of downtown, and Interbay. Given the bill’s other limitations—the city cannot have more than three sites, no more than 100 people can live at each site, and the sites must be at least one mile apart—it would only be able to accommodate a small fraction of the city’s homeless population.

Aside from the logistical quandary the bill’s limitations present, there is also a social justice issue at hand. As Sawant pointed out during the meeting, homelessness does not affect residency status, so Seattle’s homeless population has just as much of a right to live in residential spaces as the rest of the city does. Furthermore, residential zones tend to be better equipped for encampments than sprawling commercial areas, and they’re safer to boot.

Shoving Seattle’s encampments into the city’s least hospitable neighborhoods and deciding not to leave the door open for the policy to change is both illogical and dehumanizing.