Wednesday, January 16, 2008

When there’s no home in Seattle …

  The dilemma of homeless people living in public spaces is one of the most gut-wrenching in all of land use law.  On one hand, the argument, “Where are the homeless supposed to live, if not in public parks?” has no easy answer, especially when shelters for the homeless are not built, are not run well, or are more dangerous than living on the street.  On the other hand, a hard-headed argument that facilitating people living in public spaces simply encourages anti-social behavior has merit, and everyone knows that sleeping in the park is not a good long-term solution, from anyone’s perspective.

Seattleskyline   Seattle is experiencing one of the nation’s most vocal debates over homeless people in public places.  With a mild (albeit wet) winter, Seattle, like most big west coast cities, holds more than its share of homeless people, as well as a vigorous homeless activist movement, and an affluent and public-spirited population.  Two stories over the past week show two sides of the ongoing dilemma.  First, an editorial in the Post-Intelligencer asserted that once-controversial city housing projects have been successful, and have saved the city money, in large part by decreasing the cost of public-funded health care for homeless people.  Second, the city announced that, under a new plan, it would no longer clear homeless encampments without notice, but would only do so after giving homeless campers 48 hours notice.  This change would seem more humane … and then again, it may encourage camps simply to move from spot to spot.

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