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Everett City Council tables amendment to streamline encampment process for homeless

By: Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff

EVERETT, Wash., JULY 29, 2020 – A proposed expedited permit process for homeless encampments has been tabled, pausing the possibility for the immediate establishment of transitional tent encampments during the coronavirus pandemic. 

On Wednesday, July 29, the Everett City Council deferred a proposed emergency amendment that would have made changes to the permitting process for homeless encampments, reducing the 45-day notice requirement to seven days until the County moved past Phase 4 of Governor Jay Inslee’s reopening plan. 

The proposal was introduced last week by Councilmember Liz Vogeli and presented during today’s meeting as an initiative to provide people experiencing homelessness an ability to promptly shelter in place and have accessibility to services during the pandemic. 

“People need to be able to shelter in place,” Vogeli explained. “It’s an emergency for the health of residents… of our entire city to be able to shelter in place.” 

Other councilmembers shared Vogeli’s alarm with the lack of shelter capacity and access to services during the pandemic but expressed concern with absent community members voices in affirming the decision. 

Chief among concerns was that because of its proposal as an emergency ordinance, it granted council the capability to approve it without a public hearing regularly required before amending an ordinance. Others noted that the item was not included on the published agenda until within 24 hours of the meeting, leaving room for possibility that many community members were unaware of it. 

Everett City Counci
Everett City Council. Mayor Cassey Franklin (front right) with councilmembers (L-R) Judy Tuohy, Jeff Moore, Liz Vogeli, Brenda Stonecipher, Paul Roberts, Scott Bader, and Scott Murphy.

According to Deb Williams, Executive Assistant to the City Council, 19 members wrote in statements to the city about the proposed permit amendment, but their positions were not disclosed during the meeting. Six individuals provided live comments virtually during the meeting, all of whom stated support for the temporary permit amendment.

Robert Smiley, the Director of the Hand Up Project, provided public comment in support of the accelerated process, sharing his plans and procedures to establish a transitional eight-tent encampment at the United Church of Christ at 2624 Rockefeller Ave. If approved through the standing permit process, the proposed tent encampment will operate for 90 days guided by health and safety regulations. 

“We are hoping that this 90-day trial period will become a template for safe, temporary housing for those preferably already connected to services that are just waiting for the next steps,” Smiley shared. “We hope to connect with other outreach groups to provide solutions to those in need.”

Smiley has been working to find a temporary location for people experiencing homelessness geared towards advancing the accessibility of resources and services during the pandemic since early July.

On July 9, the City of Everett cleared a homeless encampment, organized by Smiley, that housed approximately 100 people on private property on Rucker Avenue. The city of Everett stated that the site lacked the approved permits. That sweep marked the second in one week of the same unsheltered residents, following their eviction by Snohomish County from public grounds at the County Campus Plaza on July 5. 

“In five days, we supported 16 cases [at the Rucker Avenue encampment] – eight that got into detox or treatment and eight families into permanent solutions,” Smiley told the council. “After disbursement, three families lost opportunities for long term solutions because we were unable to locate them.”

Hours before the Rucker Avenue eviction, Vogeli proposed to county and city officials relocating the encampment residents to Snohomish County property on Airport Road and 100th St. SW but was told the space is unavailable through the end of the year due to prior leasing commitments. 

Following Wednesday’s council meeting, Smiley told the Lynnwood Times that he submitted his application for a temporary use permit the day before on July 28. For now, he will have to wait the standing 45 days before proceeding with the operation of the encampment. Vogeli’s proposed amendment to the permitting process for homeless encampments will be reviewed further by City Administration.

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