Keeping Seattle 'clear of encampments:' Harrell's housing plan
At Seattle’s Green Lake Park Thursday, Seattle mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell outlined his platform to increase emergency housing for people who are unsheltered, and to clear homeless encampments in city parks and playgrounds.
Harrell said his platform incorporates the priorities of the Compassion Seattle ballot initiative (whose backers are appealing a judge’s decision striking it from the November ballot).
Harrell said his goal, if elected, would be to build 1,000 new supportive housing units within his first six months in office. To do so, he would seek to use an $18 million from the city’s general fund. And he would also request $116 million in federal funding, available under the American Rescue Plan Act.
Harrell said outreach to people living in encampments would be performed by non-law enforcement rapid-response teams.
"These are people who cannot make arrests, do not have lethal weapons on them, that will be masters of de-escalation and mediation, will be accompanied by people who have mental health counseling backgrounds, but they will be non-law enforcement," he said.
But it was this line from his speech that garnered applause from roughly 50 neighborhood residents who attended Thursday’s event: “We will ensure that our city parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces, sidewalks, and streets remain open and clear of encampments."
Harrell noted that schools have had to hold athletic events elsewhere because of encampments in Woodland Park.
“I will share with you that my kids ran cross-county around here. When you start denying not only tradition but healthy youthful activity that’s a tough decision to make,” he said.
Shana Kelly is with a group that is seeking the reopening of the road through Lower Woodland Park, which the city has closed to cars. She says they met with Harrell last Saturday to discuss their concerns.
“He got to observe our issues in action, including someone breaching the road and driving up the hill into one of the encampments,” she said.
She said she supports the priorities Harrell outlined at the press conference.
“He’s got some solid plans. I’m excited to hear that someone’s going to take action and responsibility and accountability. I think that’s what we’re missing in Seattle right now,” Kelly said.
She and other members of their group Open Greenlake Now said Harrell’s opponent in the mayor's race, Seattle City Council President Lorena González, also plans to meet with them. Gonzalez has pledged to seek a wealth tax and convert unused buildings and hotel space to more emergency housing.
Harrell also said “there have to be consequences” for people living in encampments who decline services. He said many people in behavioral health crisis “are in denial” and vulnerable to being preyed upon by others.
Neighbors at the press conference also said they are concerned about violent crime in Seattle, including a death investigation announced this week by Seattle Police in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood.
Harrell said he’s concerned that a lack of SPD resources has also hindered the investigation into the death of 15-year old Mahamed Mohamud, a sophomore at Lincoln High School, whose body was found in Green Lake in July.
“When we use terms like "defunding the police" — that I don’t use — it also has to do with the investigations, the preventative crime work, the community outreach,” he said.
In a statement Thursday, González's campaign manager Alex Koren said Harrell is making "empty promises" to add housing without a funding source, and "outlined no serious plan today to pay for the shelter and services that are needed." The statement added that "Harrell also cruelly suggested that we punish people for not going to shelter when our shelters are at capacity."