YouthCare believes that all young people deserve a safe and stable place to call home—and that no young person should ever have to sleep outside. We recognize that unsanctioned encampments are not suitable for habitation. Yet we also recognize that the City’s policy of sweeping encampments in the absence of adequate shelter beds or affordable housing can cause harm.
People experiencing homelessness deserve basic human rights to shelter, personal safety, and community. Forcibly moving people when they have no other place to go impinges on these rights. Moreover, it’s ineffective; over 90% of people return to the same space within thirty-six hours. Further, the City of Seattle’s data from surveys and interviews from people experiencing homelessness indicate that more than 95% of people would move off the street immediately if safe and affordable housing were available. While emergency shelter can—and does—save lives, the majority of people crave something that is not temporary: a stable home.
Displacement creates disruption, even when the intent is hopeful or focused on safety. YouthCare recognizes that daily sweeps negatively impact youth’s stability and progress. When young people are swept, they are further destabilized by the mental and emotional stress of basic survival. They struggle to meet their goals, often losing their phones or identification cards during the sweeps and missing critical housing referrals or appointments.
YouthCare’s outreach team has seen a direct correlation with city sweeps, mental decompensation, and elevated drug use. Moreover, sweeps push young people into unsafe situations, such as sleeping in city doorways, exchanging sex for shelter, or staying in adult encampments that are dangerous for young people. Ultimately, this movement increases distrust of service providers and makes it even more challenging to earn the trust of young people and help them take the first steps to lasting stability.
YouthCare does not believe young people should be sleeping outside and supports intervention if there is a legitimate threat to the safety of the residents and the broader community. However, YouthCare cannot support policies that exacerbate trauma. Barring imminent danger, YouthCare opposes the continuation of sweeps until there are safe and affordable shelter and housing alternatives for young people to stay.