Facing a Dilemma: Seattle’s Home-Insecurity & Public Lands

Every night, more than 3,000 people in our community have no indoor place to sleep or shelter from the elements; and this number is rising. Regardless of why — whether because of a health crisis, loss of a job or simply the economic misfortune of losing an affordable place to live — these are our fellow neighbors in need of help, starting with a safe place to rest each night. In the absence of sufficient shelter beds and affordable housing, many are choosing to camp in public parks and greenspaces. Indeed, the City counts more than 690 unauthorized encampments, many of them on public land.

 

Our core conviction is that sustainability emerges when people and environment thrive jointly. Camping on our park lands fails at both.

This use of public land may be understandable, but it cannot be acceptable. It is not a solution for anyone. Our public parks and greenspaces must remain dedicated to the safe enjoyment of all our residents, from our very young children to our most senior citizens. Moreover, thousands of our neighbors have poured their time and passion into caring for our parks through programs like the Green Seattle Partnership — restoring for public enjoyment hundreds of acres of once-lost wooded parklands and natural areas. Most importantly of all — given the geography of homelessness — many of the most affected parks serve our lower-income neighborhoods, where individuals and families deserve the same rights as in all our city’s neighborhoods: to have nearby safe places to relax, explore nature and recreate. Anything less shreds the social compact of a growing city with its residents.

Forterra exists to foster a sustainable city and region. Our core conviction is that sustainability emerges when people and environment thrive jointly. Camping on our park lands fails at both. We are faced with a dilemma we can’t just wish away.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold said, “The reality is that people are and will, for the near term, be living outdoors and that no one has a magic wand to change that reality overnight.” Yet Mayor Murray is definitely also right in saying that, “There are areas in this city where it is unacceptable to have people camp. We want to find a way to get people places they can camp, but at the same time we can’t have people in our parks or on our sidewalks, or on school property or areas where they are at-risk.”

Ultimately the way out of today’s problem is creating more housing along with changing the circumstances and systems that strand people in home-insecurity.

Forterra strongly urges the Seattle City Council to find a way forward that both acknowledges the humanitarian crisis and honors the need to keep vital parkland and natural areas truly public. To the extent that other city-owned property must be used as sanctioned campsites, we urge that these areas be carefully and consultatively chosen, equitably distributed and provided with vital services. These are the essential elements of the latest plans put forward by the Mayor, and Forterra supports them.

Ultimately the way out of today’s problem is creating more housing along with changing the circumstances and systems that strand people in home-insecurity. None of that will be easy, but in this moment of growth, prosperity and innovation for the region, it is surely possible. It is fundamental to a civil and civilized community.

Forterra stands ready to contribute its skills in community-building and real estate to help. To that end, several months ago we launched the Forterra Strong Community Initiative to increase the future availability of property for affordable homes, small businesses and the other key land uses foundational to cohesive neighborhoods that are welcoming to all in the midst of a thriving city.

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