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What is Compassion Seattle?

Compassion Seattle is a group of civic and community leaders working to address Seattle’s homelessness crisis. Our mission is to make an immediate and tangible impact for people experiencing homelessness. We have launched an initiative to direct the city to address this crisis, which has increased dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic. We do not believe people should have to live in encampments in our parks and on our sidewalks, which is why this measure supports increases in, and access to, emergency and permanent housing, and mental health and substance use disorder treatment and services for people experiencing homelessness and to keep public spaces clear of encampments.

Who is involved?

Compassion Seattle involves community organizations, neighborhood and civic leaders, residents, advocates for people experiencing homelessness, and local business owners and executives. Its advisory team includes Erin Goodman, Executive Director of SODO Business Improvement Area; Mike Stewart, Executive Director of Ballard Alliance; Ron Sims, former King County Executive; Tim Burgess, former City Council president and interim Mayor, and others.

Why did Compassion Seattle form?

We are at a critical point in addressing Seattle’s homelessness crisis, a humanitarian issue of our time that needs solutions that work. Compassion Seattle formed to engage with the City government, social service providers and community leaders on an approach that includes tangible actions with measurable outcomes. We believe these outcomes can benefit us all, from increased economic recovery of the downtown and neighborhood business districts, to helping our city’s most in need find emergency and permanent housing and overcome critical issues of mental health and addiction.

What is Compassion Seattle’s goal?

Compassion Seattle aims to focus the way the City of Seattle addresses the homelessness crisis towards what we know works: behavioral health services and housing. That’s why the Charter Amendment mandates the provision of emergency and permanent housing and mental health and substance use disorder services for those who are experiencing homelessness, especially the chronically homeless. Compassion Seattle’s first goal is to gather enough public support—via petition signatures—for the amendment to be placed on the ballot in November 2021 for Seattle voters. Compassion Seattle’s second goal is to win voter approval of the measure and see this plan implemented.

Why does it matter?

As a City, we need to greatly increase the efficacy of our response to unsheltered homelessness by focusing resources on behavioral health services and emergency and permanent housing. This includes addressing and considering the individual needs of each unsheltered person. By focusing resources in these areas, we can better support individuals and address the conflicts that can arise with encampments and other uses of public space. The City has declared a State of Emergency, and this proposal is the best way to address it as one.

We can do better.

What are the details of Compassion Seattle’s City Charter Amendment?

It will accomplish 10 primary and urgent outcomes—

  • Requires the City government to work to end chronic homelessness and racial disparities in the homeless population and pursue the goal that no one should have to live outdoors in public spaces. The City shall collaborate and partner to ensure successful outcomes and support an innovative and effective regional service network.
  • Requires behavioral health programs and services to be offered in combination with access to housing in enhanced shelters, tiny houses, hotel-motel rooms, and other forms of non-congregate emergency or permanent housing.
  • Requires the City within six months of the effective date of the Charter amendment to provide an additional 1,000 units of emergency and permanent housing and within one year of the adoption of the amendment to provide another 1,000 units, a total of 2,000 units within 12 months.
  • Requires the City to ensure that City parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces and sidewalks and streets remain open and clear of encampments as the programs and services defined by the amendment are made available. Any work relocating people to housing should avoid any possible harm to individuals caused by closing encampments and that when closing encampments, it is City policy to avoid, as much as possible, dispersing people, except to safe and secure housing. The Amendment reaffirms the City’s ability to close encampments that create problems related to public health or safety or interferes with the use of the public spaces by others.
  • Requires the City to help fund the deployment of a behavioral health rapid-response field capability as a non-law enforcement crisis response option.
  • Requires the City by contracting with King County to help fund low-barrier, rapid-access mental health and substance use disorder treatment services with a focus on those who are chronically homeless and face the greatest barriers to engagement with these services.
  • Requires the City to establish a Human Services Fund to support programs and services offered by the City and to place in this Fund not less than 12 percent of the City’s annual general fund revenues, any grants, gifts and bequests for human service purposes received from the general public, businesses and philanthropy, and any other such moneys as may be provided by ordinance.
  • Requires the City to identify and address factors known to drive the overrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and People of Color among those experiencing chronic homelessness through culturally competent services and workforce standards.
  • Requires the City, to the extent permitted by state law, during a declared civil emergency related to homelessness, to accelerate the production of emergency and permanent housing, by waiving land use code requirements as necessary, waive all City project-related permitting fees, receive all applications for project-related permits as “first-in-line” applications, and refund the City’s portion of the sales tax related to the construction or remodeling of emergency and permanent housing.
  • Requires the City to fully support, advance and invest in the regional governmental homelessness authority.

Who will be served if this ballot measure is adopted by Seattle voters?

This ballot measure will serve people experiencing homelessness in Seattle, with priority given to individuals experiencing chronic homelessness, in order to transition them to emergency and permanent housing, and as appropriate, to provide behavioral health services. Chronic homelessness is defined as being homeless for one or more years or four separate episodes of homelessness in the past three years and a diagnosis of substance use disorder, mental illness, developmental disability, or a chronic physical illness.

Isn’t it going to cost a lot of money to provide mental health and substance use disorder services? Is this an unfunded mandate?

It’s about prioritization. This measure directs the City to prioritize funding these services, just like it prioritizes spending in other areas that the community supports. As the number one priority to address for the people and the City, this should also be the number one priority for the City’s general fund.

The City and County may partner with HealthierHere and the King County Accountable Community of Health, to make innovative use of Medicaid waiver funds to engage this population in care. This measure also ensures city revenues will support related costs such as facilities, training and adequate compensation for qualified staff, and expenses necessary to expand access to behavioral health services. We also support the City using COVID relief funding available from the Federal Government, as well as other federal funds to support implementation of this measure. The measure also affirms and mandates the city’s continued support of and participation in the new Regional Homelessness Authority.

Some contend this ballot measure is just another way to mandate so-called “sweeps” of encampments in the city.

This Charter Amendment is about bringing people inside. This includes taking an individualized approach to addressing the unique needs of each unsheltered person. As services become available – as outlined in the initiative – it will be possible to ensure that people are not living in our public spaces. Without a place people can and will stay in, removal or dispersal is not effective—as we’ve seen to date. The Charter Amendment notes that any work relocating people to housing should avoid any “possible harm to individuals caused by closing encampments” and that when closing encampments, it is “City policy to avoid, as much as possible, dispersing people, except to safe and secure housing.” We can do better.

What research do you have that supports this initiative’s approach?

Our polling data show 71% of Seattle voters are in favor of this amendment’s approach, including the focus on treatment and service interventions. We also know that homelessness is voters’ top concern, almost 40 percentage points higher than any other issue identified by Seattle voters.

Isn’t this supposed to be the job of the new Regional Homelessness Authority?

The language of the measure directs the City to implement this work in a way that is consistent with the authority’s plans, and to contract with the authority to deliver parts of this measure in accordance with the interlocal agreement adopted by the City Council and signed by the Mayor. This Charter amendment should be a foundational element of the Seattle subarea plan for the authority.

How can I support Compassion Seattle in this effort?

Sign our petition that will be available in April 2021. Visit our Get Involved page to learn more on how to donate, volunteer and sign the petition once it is available.

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Can I volunteer?

We will have more information on volunteering when the petition becomes available in April 2021. Click here for more information and to be notified as opportunities are announced.

How many signatures are needed to qualify for the November ballot?

33,060 valid signatures of Seattle registered voters.

What happens once you have the required signatures?

Once enough signatures are collected, they will be submitted to the Office of the City Clerk for validation of the signatures.

Who is funding this organization?

Compassion Seattle has raised funds from local people and organizations who support this effort. The organization is currently accepting donations online at

Will this initiative be in effect forever?

This measure would sunset in December 2027, six years after the election in which the voters of Seattle have the opportunity to adopt this Charter Amendment.

When the Charter Amendment was refiled on April 15, 2021, what changed?

Following continued discussions with various area organizations committed to resolving Seattle’s homelessness crisis, Compassion Seattle refiled the original Charter Amendment with updated language clarifying the tangible, supportive actions that the City will have to take to solve this problem.

The updated Charter Amendment includes new language doubling down on the initiative’s person-centered approach to fixing this crisis, noting that any work relocating people to housing should avoid any “possible harm to individuals caused by closing encampments” and that when closing encampments, it is “City policy to avoid, as much as possible, dispersing people, except to safe and secure housing.” A new clause was also added sunsetting the measure in December 2027, six years after passage of the Charter Amendment by the voters of Seattle.

Help us take specific, measurable actions to end Seattle’s homeless crisis.

Compassion Seattle’s petition will be available to sign in late April. Get updates and reminders straight to your inbox by signing up below.