Unauthorized Encampments

The number of people living unsheltered in encampments has increased substantially in the last several years. Unauthorized encampments sometimes obstruct the normal use of public property and sometimes are health and safety hazards for encampment occupants and the general public. Removing unauthorized encampments reduces their impact on the surrounding community but also disrupts the lives of the already vulnerable people living in them. Since 2008, the City has had specific rules for the removal of encampments that balance providing services and alternatives to people living in encampments with the health and safety benefits of removing encampments.

The City finalized new encampment removal rules on March 15, 2017, with an effective date of April 3, 2017. During those three weeks, the City will train all staff and contracted workers on the new rules. Where possible and permitted by current rules, the City will implement the new rules earlier. For example, the City is already using the criteria for prioritizing encampment sites for removal, and placing written notice on or near each tent or structure that will be removed.

  • FAS Encampment Removal Rule. This rule describes how and when the City will remove encampments.
  • Multi-Department Administrative Rule. This rule harmonizes the administrative process by which individuals may be excluded from City property and requires City departments to follow the FAS Encampment Removal Rule (above) when removing an encampment.

In summary, the rules outline the City's process for:

  • Prioritizing encampments for removal.
  • Providing notice when an encampment is scheduled for cleanup.
  • Offering outreach and alternative shelter options.
  • Cleaning up an encampment site.
  • Collecting, cataloguing and storing personal belongings and how individuals can recover their property.
  • Immediately removing obstructions and immediate hazards.
  • Identifying and specifying emphasis areas that will be subject to daily inspection and immediate removal of any encampment-related materials.

Background

In 2016, Mayor Murray formed a Task Force on Unsanctioned Encampment Cleanup Protocols to make recommendations on changing the encampment removal rules. In October 2016, he announced the Bridging the Gap to Pathways Home plan. This plan increases short-term support to people living without homes while longer-term strategies are reorganized. The plan also called for rewriting the rules for removing encampments. The City published draft rules on Jan. 31, 2017, and as part of the rule-making process, solicited public comment on the proposed rules. The City has made a variety of adjustments to the rules to incorporate ideas provided in public comment, including:

  • Specifically including personal paperwork and identification in the definition of personal belongings, which belongings the City will store when it is safe to do so.
  • Requiring that notice of encampment removal be verbal as well as written when possible.
  • Clarifying the definition of an obstruction and of an immediate hazard.

Encampment Cleanup Process Overview

Outreach - The Navigation Team, a specially trained group of outreach workers and Seattle Police officers, is going into unauthorized encampments throughout the city to help identify and implement individual solutions that break down barriers preventing unsheltered people from moving indoors. In many cases, this occurs before notice of an impending cleanup and after cleanups. Outreach always happens after a cleanup notice has been posted, and on the actual day(s) of the cleanup.

Reporting - The City learns of camping/unauthorized encampments in several ways, including:

  • Through calls from the public to the Customer Service Bureau, reports filed using the City's online Service Request Form and through the Find It, Fix It mobile app.
  • From the Seattle Police Department and other City staff out in the field who encounter people camping on City-owned property.

Assessment - Upon receiving reports, specially trained City staff visit the site to assess the situation.

Prioritization - Cleanups at unauthorized camping sites are prioritized based on health and safety issues observed. Criminal behavior and obstructing a facility (e.g., camping on the sidewalk) are considered as part of this prioritization.

Scheduling - Encampments are scheduled for removal based on their priority. If an encampment is abandoned but trash remains, Seattle Public Utilities' Illegal Dumping program addresses the site.

Notice - Sites scheduled for cleanup are posted at least 72 hours in advance with the date(s) and time of the cleanup.

Storage - City staff offer to store belongings for those on site during advance outreach and the day of the cleanup. On the day of the cleanup, staff collect, inventory, photograph and store personal belongings whether or not the individual is present, unless the items are clearly refuse, hazardous or evidence of a crime. Information on how to retrieve items from storage is handed to campers (if on site) and posted at the site. Items are stored for at least 70 days and the City will deliver belongings to the individual upon request (effective 4/3/2017).

Retrieve stored belongings:
Belongings may be recovered by calling 206-459-9949 and accurately describing the items.   

Access shelter or social services: Call 2-1-1.