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, and local business owners and executives. Its advisory team includes Erin Goodman, Executive Director of SODO Business Improvement Area; Gina Hall, Executive Director of Uplift Northwest (formerly the Millionaires Club Charity), 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, the 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 vulnerable 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: housing and behavioral health services. 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 is a city charter?

A city charter is a basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government. It can be likened to the Constitution of the United States, or a state, just at the city-level.

What is a city charter amendment?

A city charter amendment, if approved by voters, amends, or modifies, the charter. A charter amendment proposed by citizen petition must acquire 33,060 signatures from registered voters in order to qualify for the ballot. Charter Amendment 29 is a citizen petition to amend the charter and if the required signatures are obtained the measure will appear on the November 2021 ballot.

Why push for change via a charter amendment as opposed to pushing for the passage of a piece of legislation?

A charter amendment is a stronger expression of the people’s will and is a directive to the Mayor and City Council to implement the plan defined in Charter Amendment 29 to end our city’s homelessness crisis.

Who was in involved in writing the language for Charter Amendment 29?

A diverse group came to the table to craft the language for Charter Amendment 29, including providers, community organizations, neighborhood and civic leaders and local business owners and executives. Many of these individuals are quoted in our initial announcement from April 1 and can also be seen on our “What People Are Saying” page.

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 or 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 take actions 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.

As of January 2020, there were approximately 3,700 people living unsheltered in Seattle. Why does Charter Amendment 29 only require creating 2,000 units of housing?

2,000 units is not the end, it’s the beginning. This is an aggressive start to providing enough capacity in the first year to move people inside and make a noticeable difference in the region.

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

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 a 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.

Seattle/King County is expected to receive approximately $800 million from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. In addition, Seattle’s budget director has forecast that the local economy has entered a period of recovery and modest growth and that city revenues will be approximately $40 million higher in 2021 than originally estimated.

Adopting new taxes is not necessary to fulfill the first years of the plan outlined in Charter Amendment 29. We believe the City of Seattle has the necessary resources in its general fund, and it comes down to a matter of prioritization. If the City demonstrates both success and a need for new funding to complete the plan they should then make that case to the voters.

Does the amendment force the City to clean up encampments?

This Charter Amendment is about bringing people inside and it establishes a clear process for the city to follow to close encampments. 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 over the last few years. 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.

The Charter Amendment reaffirms the city’s ability to immediately close encampments that pose a public health or safety risk or obstruct the use of public spaces.

Once emergency and permanent housing are available, are people allowed to continue camping in parks and other public spaces?

No. However, Charter Amendment 29 is not a quick fix. It will take a focused and persistent effort to persuade individuals to accept housing and services tailored to meet their needs. The best way to keep our public spaces free of encampments is to follow the experience of other cities who have successfully addressed this issue by meeting basic human needs for safe and secure housing and by providing behavioral health services. The Charter Amendment states that 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.” But, the Charter Amendment reaffirms the City’s ability to immediately close encampments that create “problems related to public health or safety or interferes with the use of the public spaces by others.”

The Charter Amendment allows the city government to waive land use regulations to expedite the siting of emergency housing units. What does this mean and how will it impact neighborhoods?

First, let’s recognize that we already have nonconforming uses in neighborhoods across the city; they’re called tent encampments with trash, needles, and negative interactions and obstruction of public spaces happening daily.

The intent of the zoning waiver is to enable the city government to more quickly site emergency housing — like tiny houses on a vacant lot in the city — during the declared civil emergency related to homelessness. There are just too many examples of the city government being unable, or unwilling, to overcome existing barriers to quickly establish emergency housing. For example, the 46-unit tiny home village in the Interbay industrial-commercial neighborhood was established after five years of recommended changes to zoning and land use in the area. The zoning waiver allows for the temporary streamlining of the permitting process during the declared civil emergency related to homelessness so we can create emergency housing units and bring unsheltered people inside and then open our parks, playgrounds, sports fields, sidewalks and other public spaces to everyone’s use. The waiver does not change underlying zoning or waive any of the city’s life safety regulations, such as the fire code or building safety code.

If Charter Amendment 29 passes, what mechanism is in place to hold the City accountable?

This is exactly the intent of a charter amendment – to hold the city and its leaders accountable. However, the charter amendment is just one component to fixing this crisis; the other is electing the right leaders who want to effectively address the number one concern among voters.

If the number of people experiencing homelessness increases, does the Charter Amendment allow for an unlimited amount of housing to be available?

There is no language in Charter Amendment 29 that supports “unlimited housing” or a “right to housing.” We know there are approximately 3,700 people living unsheltered inside the boundaries of the City of Seattle and that 2,000 units in the first year is not the end, but the beginning.

The Amendment calls for diverting individuals from the criminal justice system. Does the Amendment create new affirmative defenses for those commiting crimes to satisfy basic needs?

No. The Amendment encourages diversion from the criminal justice system in a manner consistent with the City’s public safety obligations. It does not create new affirmative defenses, nor does it suggest that the City shouldn’t meet its basic public health and safety obligations.

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 is available from May 27, 2021 to June 25, 2021. Visit our Get Involved page to learn more, including how to donate, volunteer and sign the petition.

Follow and share our content on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Can I volunteer?

Email info@compassionseattle.org for more information and subscribe to our email list to be notified as opportunities are announced.

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 compassionseattle.org/donate.

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 approved this Charter Amendment. This allows flexibility should the amendment need to be revised/changed in the future.

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.

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