Report: More than half of homeless people offered shelter by city of Seattle say 'no'

More than half of people removed from encampments by the city of Seattle rejected the offer of shelter in 2021, according to a report from PubliCola.

According to the report, the city's Homelessness Outreach and Provider Ecosystem (HOPE) team referred 1,072 people to a shelter during the year, but only 512 people actually "enrolled" and spent at least one night there. By comparison, the city referred 815 people to shelters in 2020 and 265 spent at least one night at a shelter.

"We can't force someone to accept the offer, but we are doing everything in our power to build relationships up until that point that we have a better chance for them to say yes" said Michael Bailey, the deputy director of Seattle’s Human Services Department told Seattle City Councilmembers last week.

Bailey said 92% of referrals were for the city’s 24/7 enhanced shelter or tiny house villages and include case management and potential treatment for drug, alcohol abuse and behavioral services.

The referrals were made from 119 different encampment locations.

The concern expressed by many city council members was the apparent increase in the number of camp removals considered "obstructions" by the city. If an encampment is blocking access to sidewalk or driveway, it’s considered an obstruction.

In those instances, under the city’s Multi-Departmental Administrative Rules, the camp can be removed immediately without the traditional 72-hour warning notice to camp occupants.

Seattle’s longest running ‘sanctioned’ homeless camp must move but has no place to go

The move comes at a time when Mayor Bruce Harrell is changing how the city handles the homelessness crisis and the call to expand the number of sanctioned encampments by at least one city council member.

Councilmember Tammy Morales showed concern over the apparent displacement of people who are just moving from one camp to another when there’s an encampment sweep.

"That’s what we are trying to measure, how that number starts to decrease" Morales said.  "If we are not paying attention to it, if we are tacitly ignoring it, we are not going to solve that problem."

The city is still performing its own camp removals and referrals to shelters even as the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) begins to take over the same operations.

Marc Dones, the CEO of the KCRHA, said it’s possible to reduce the number of unsheltered people living in downtown Seattle to zero in 10 to 12 months with the stakeholder cooperation.

"It can happen, if they give us housing" says Dale Moquion who lives in a camp on the sidewalk near the north terminus of the South Lake Union Trolley.

"Oh no, differently not," a woman named Sara, who lives in the same encampment, said.  "Because there are people who want to be out here." 

Sara said "that’s a good question, I don’t know," when asked what it would take to get her off the street. 

Rickey Mane, who was just released from prison and lives in a shelter, didn’t believe the ‘zero’ goal can be achieved.

"I don’t know how they are going to do that," he says. "But if they want, they can start with me, so I’m here, mayor, if you want to come and get me a house." 

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