Seattle Councilmember suggests establishing 10 'sanctioned' homeless encampments to house 600 people

A Seattle City Councilmember has floated the idea of establishing sanctioned homeless encampments in downtown, according to a letter he sent to the mayor's office obtained by FOX 13.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, the chair of the council's committee on homelessness, suggested the city establish 10 "sanctioned" encampments that would house upwards of 600 people experiencing homelessness. 

Lewis also said he is "firmly convinced" that the city could execute a plan to create the encampments between now and Memorial Day. 

"With discipline and coordination, we could have 400-600 people in encampments of this nature within 105 days," Lewis wrote in the letter. 

To make it happen, Lewis wrote, "I would have Mayor Harrell promulgate an executive order to all departments to make any work order related to the homelessness emergency response the first priority of the department."

The 10 sites would house 40 to 60 people each and have hygiene facilities, case management and security. He suggested that over the course of the summer, the sanctioned encampments could morph into tiny houses or pallet villages and could eventually be shut down as people move into permanent housing.

Lewis estimates the initiative could cost between $8 million to $12 million a year if tiny house villages are constructed with the services needed to get people into permanent housing.

Gov. proposes division to handle homeless encampments along state highways

The Washington State Senate, as requested by Gov. Jay Inslee, proposed a bill on Feb. 2 that would create a subdivision of the Department of Social and Health Services that would focus on ‘intergovernmental coordination to address the cleaning of homeless encampments. 

His proposal did not specify where the fenced-in sanctioned camps would be if his suggestion came to fruition. 

"This email represents some of my preliminary thoughts in an ongoing conversation with Mayor Harrell," Lewis told FOX13 News. "The status-quo is unacceptable, and we are working hard with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to move forward with a new approach."

Publicola, who first reported the letter, said the locations could be on land owned by the city, the Port of Seattle or churches.

On Jan. 1, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) took over a majority of homeless response operations for the city. Last week, a $10 million public-private partnership with several philanthropies was announced with the aim to reduce the number of homeless individuals in downtown Seattle.

KCRHA estimates that there are between 800 and 1,000 people are experiencing homelessness in downtown Seattle. KCRHA CEO Marc Dones believes that number can be reduced to 30 people by the end of the year. 

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