Stop the sweeps – fund sanitation, services & safe shelter to stop the spread of COVID-19
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We value the public health, safety, and recovery of the Chinatown-International District (CID) community – including our neighbors who are unhoused. Policy making during this crisis should be grounded in the best available public health guidance. We also have a responsibility, grounded in our values of love and compassion, to act humanely to the people in our community. Because of this, we urge the City of Seattle to stop encampment removals in the CID and provide enhanced sanitation, outreach services, safe shelter, and pathways to stable housing.
We demand that you:
- Pass Council Bill 119796 to limit sweeps during the state of emergency.
- Install sanitation and handwashing stations in the CID as soon as possible.
- Allow voluntary placement of unsheltered neighbors into individual housing options that allow them to Stay Home & Stay Healthy, while providing access to wrap-around services.
- Invest in more safe, healthy, and stable housing options. Support democratically-governed models like SHARE/WHEEL, where formerly unsheltered communities cooperatively manage their homes.
Sweeps are expensive, inhumane, and ineffective.
In today’s public health crisis, we are asking everyone to stay home as much as possible in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Sweeps directly contradict that policy by having police and workers invade people’s personal space, forcing them to relocate and increasing the potential for infection across communities.
Sweeps are a known public health risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend against removing encampments during the crisis unless there are non-congregate shelter options. This is because congregate shelters pose a significant risk of COVID-19 spread. The pandemic has also caused shelters to reduce their capacity to allow for social distancing, cutting availability to a system that was already stretched to its limits.
Moreover, many of our unsheltered neighbors are at a higher vulnerability to COVID-19 due to preexisting conditions. These same neighbors are also uninsured.
Note that the City spends upwards of $8 million each year on sweeps, which has yet to show evidence of reducing homelessness and transitioning our neighbors to stable housing. Meanwhile, a $3 million annual investment in tiny homes has helped over 500 neighbors find permanent housing.
Center public health and proven policies.
If our top priority is the health of our community, the city must deploy sanitation services to our unsheltered neighbors in the CID. This will allow people to stay put and limit social interaction, while allowing continuity of existing services. These basic harm reduction strategies are recommended by the CDC.
Immediately, the City must expand individual housing options to allow our unsheltered neighbors to Stay Home, Stay Healthy. The City should strategically provide ‘wrap-around’ services to individual housing options to meet the needs of our neighbors and provide pathways to stable housing.
The solution to the housing crisis is clear: create more permanent low-income and truly affordable housing. Money wasted on sweeps can be better spent on affordable housing construction. Now is the time to invest in social housing, especially democratically-governed models that allow communities to control their land and build wealth.
On racial justice.
We are well aware that the housing crisis affects black folks, indigenous communities, and other people of color disproportionately. Those same communities are more likely to face chronic health issues, including COVID-19. Sweeps only worsen these inequities, while inflicting trauma and violence to many of our unsheltered neighbors.
Moreover, the City recently swept encampments in Ballard, after which the CID noticed a considerable rise in encampments. By failing to address underlying issues, while relying on ineffective policy, the City has only shifted the problem from a largely white and wealthy neighborhood to our community of color, while doing nothing to help our unsheltered neighbors..
We all share a common goal: flattening the curve and saving lives. Halting sweeps and investing in sanitation, safe shelter options, and permanent housing can address both of Seattle’s two states of emergency.
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