Speak Out Seattle Yells


SOS opposes efforts to legalize camping by homeless people. (Photo by David Bloom)

New coalition opposes homeless camping and drug-consumption sites, and wants 500 new cops

Speak Out Seattle (SOS), a new coalition of Seattle “residents, business owners and community groups,” has formed to fight legalizing homeless camping and drug-consumption sites.

The coalition is also asking the city to hire 300 new police officers by the end of 2017 and 200 more new cops by the end of 2019. As of Dec. 30, 2016, the police department’s Public Affairs Unit says Seattle had 1389 sworn officers.

SOS counts among its members the Neighborhood Safety Alliance, Safe Seattle, Ballard District Council, Whittier Heights Patrol Association and Livable Phinney. The coalition is doing outreach to other community groups around the city.

Although, SOS claims it is not “Left or Right,” the group’s demands are consistent with a more conservative, law-and-order approach to homeless camping and drug use than currently exists in Seattle. Over the last year, there have been signs of discontent from some Seattleites to several of City Hall’s more liberal initiatives.

On Sept. 6, 2016, the city council, led by Councilmember Mike O’Brien, voted 7 to 1 to consider a new ordinance that would give “broad new protections” for homeless campers, reported The Seattle Times.

On Sept. 14, 2016, State Senator Mark Miloscia, a Republican candidate for State Auditor, held a press conference in Seattle, announcing his effort to require local governments, like Seattle, to enforce bans on public camping. The Neighborhood Safety Alliance, a member of SOS, backed his effort, according to Queen Anne & Magnolia News.

On Oct. 14, 2016, at a packed city council hearing, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant received boisterous applause when he declared “there should be zero tolerance for camping on public property,” wrote The Seattle Times.

On Jan. 5, SOS delivered letters to Council President Bruce Harrell, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and Councilmember Mike O’Brien. The letter to Harrell called for 500 new police officers; the missive to Bagshaw opposed King County’s Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force’s proposed drug-consumption sites; and the communication to O’Brien opposed any legalization of camping in city parks or green spaces.

In January 2016, after receiving an overwhelming response to a Facebook post about drugs and homelessness, Magnolia’s Cindy Pierce founded the Neighborhood Safety Alliance (NSA), a member of the SOS coalition. While Pierce is not a spokesperson for SOS, I recently interviewed her about her views on homeless camping and drug use in Seattle.

Pierce is a peppy, empty-nester homemaker from Magnolia. She became an activist in response to an unauthorized encampment in neighboring Interbay, which she says was inhabited by drug addicts.

Pierce says people call her a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) because “I do not want drug addicts who are committing crimes in my neighborhood.”

She does not, however, consider herself a NIMBY because she has compassion. To illustrate, she recalled an incident where she found three children, ages six, three and one, living in a tent with a guy zonked out on drugs, who was not their father. “It breaks my heart,” she says. (The children were taken into protective custody.)

Pierce has spent considerable time in homeless camps and talking to people living in their vehicles. Homeless people tell her that they come to Seattle because “the services offered are really nice,” she says. The drug addicts, she continues, say, “The heroin is pretty good here’”

On a recent tour of the Queen Anne greenbelt with the Seattle Police Department, Pierce met a meth addict who was living in a tent. “I grabbed him by the collar and said, ‘I don’t want to see you living in a tent.’ He says, ‘I really like it out here!’” recalls Pierce. “He shouldn’t have a choice to camp in the city of Seattle. The gentleman was from Florida. Give [him] a bus pass back home.”

Pierce’s and SOS’ views put them at odds with the current consensus at Seattle City Hall that a law-and-order response to homelessness and drug addiction is neither effective nor compassionate.

Mayor Ed Murray and city councilmembers, however, also differ on what specific new laws to pursue on these issues.

It remains to be seen whether SOS can inject its views into the council’s and the mayor’s deliberations on these vital public policies.

Questions, tips, comments: georgehowlandjr@gmail.com

Award winning journalist George Howland Jr has been hired by Seattle Displacement Coalition to write for Outside City Hall about city politics, housing, homelessness and land use. He works under his own editorial direction. The Displacement Coalition plays no role in choosing his specific subjects or editing his copy.

About George Howland Jr

Since 1977, George Howland Jr. has lived in Seattle and written reportage, opinion pieces, memoirs, fiction and book and music reviews. He has worked at Real Change, Seattle Weekly and The Stranger.
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