No plans to change Seattle’s approach to homelessness despite SCOTUS ruling



(The Center Square) – The City of Seattle will not adjust its approach to resolving homelessness encampments despite a recent ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that allows local bans on camping on public property.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last Friday by a 6-3 vote that banning homeless encampments on public property does not constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment.

The Seattle metropolitan area is currently experiencing an all-time high in homelessness, according to the latest Point-In-Time count that the King County Regional Homelessness Authority released in May. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority conducted a PIT count in January, with results showing 16,385 people experiencing homelessness in King County. That is the highest number of recorded people experiencing homelessness in King County since data collection began.

Callie Craighead, press secretary at Mayor Harrell, said the city’s approach to resolving encampments is based on data, best practices, and its values. All of which are not being affected by the Supreme Court’s decision.

The city’s current standards for resolving encampments was established in 2017, prior to the Martin V Boise decision in 2019, which ruled that homeless people cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives. The city’s standards are titled the “Multi Departmental Administrative Rules.”

“Our approach leads with offering shelter and services as part of the encampment resolution process, ensuring people come indoors at the same time as we keep public spaces clean and accessible for everyone,” Craighead said. “The city’s Unified Care Team closely follows the requirements set out in the [Multi Departmental Administrative Rules], grounding the city’s encampment resolution work in the compassionate approach we believe in.”

The Seattle Unified Care Team most recently saw improvements in homelessness statistics, based on its own data collection. The team counted 345 tents within city limits in March 2024, a 34% decrease from 523 tents counted in the fourth quarter of 2023.

The city’s 2023-2024 biennium budget includes $13.8 million in funding and 53 new full-time positions under the Unified Care Team

While Harrell’s office remains steadfast on the city’s current approach to resolving homeless encampments, Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison views the Supreme Court’s decision as a positive step in the right direction.

Davison views the ruling as an opportunity for local jurisdictions to create more safe streets through improved laws that address homeless encampments.

“Supporting people who are homeless is a crucial responsibility we all bear – at the same time, we cannot ignore the impact of encampments on our communities,” Davison said in a statement. “While I do not decide encampment policy as city attorney, there remains a lot of work to be done and it will take all of us working together to make progress on these critical issues.”

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