British Columbia

Seattle proposes new way of working with homeless campers

Homeless camps have sprung up in many B.C. communities, and in Seattle, the problem is becoming a crisis. That city's council is considering a new way of handling evictions.

'Clearing people out isn’t working'

Oppenheimer Park, in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, remains a tent city on Sept. 25, 2014, more than two months after homeless campers and their supporters said they would begin living in the park due to a lack of adequate housing.
Oppenheimer Park, in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, became the site of a homeless camp in 2014. (CBC)

Seattle city council is considering a proposal that would streamline how the city evicts homeless campers and connects them with people who can help.

As it stands, says attorney Ann LoGerfo, the standard procedure is for city workers to give campers 72 hours notice of removal and then confiscate property left behind.

"The homeless individuals have less than they ever had but end up coming back to that property or somewhere else in the city," she told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn. "Clearing people out isn't working."

LoGerfo's organization, Columbia Legal Services, co-authored the report.

Under the proposed 'ordinance' — similar to a municipal bylaw — city staff can designate parts of Seattle as areas where homeless camps would be unsafe, and camps found there could then be shut down within 48 hours.

But, she said staff must get outreach systems involved, safely store confiscated belongings and direct the campers to a part of the city where they are allowed.

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"It allows for a very targeted, individualized approach where there's engagement and assessment of needs and then offers of services or housing or medical care and things people need," she said.

LoGerfo said Seattle has approximately 3,000 people sleeping outside and there were, last month, 350 active unauthorized camps in the city with anywhere from three to 100 people.

While she's optimistic the ordinance will be passed, she says the missing part of the long-term solution to homelessness is affordable housing where people can live permanently.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Seattle considering new way of dealing with homeless camps