Seattle allows tent cities to help homeless people

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Tent cities are encampments that are the latest symbol of San Francisco's homeless crisis, but it's not the only city dealing with the issue.

ABC7 News Carolyn Tyler traveled to Seattle where officials are taking a very different controversial approach than the one here.

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Tent City Five Interbay is in the largely industrial area of Seattle. It opened in November with the city's blessing. At least 70 men and women live there. "The biggest goal is to get back into community, to get back into life, get back into living with other people, get back to what we lost," Peter Soukup said.

Soukup is one of the leaders of the camp, which sits on city owned property. It's one of three sanctioned by Seattle's Mayor Ed Murray who has declared a state of emergency on the homeless crisis. Experts say Seattle has nearly 3,000 people living on the streets. "I was homeless over a year, lived in the bushes and on the train tracks," Soukup said.

RELATED: ABC7 is proud to participate in the San Francisco Homeless Project

The city partners with non-profits to offer social services to help residents find permanent shelter. There are porta potties, food, clothing and other donated supplies. Critics call the tents unconscionable. Murray says they aren't a long term strategy, but he believes these organized encampments have less impact on the neighborhoods.

In San Francisco, they have become a glaring symbol of a growing crisis. A new emergency response team is being created to track the camps and offer outreach.

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A measure headed for the November ballot would dismantle tents after a 24 hour notice if shelter is available, and right now there's not enough.

But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and his new director on homelessness and supportive housing are not ready to follow in the footsteps of our neighbor to the north. "We don't believe right now tent cities is a solution," Lee said.

"People shouldn't live in a tent, at the same time this is all we've got," Soukup said.

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ABC7 is proud to participate in the "SF Homeless Project" with more than 60 other media outlets. A letter of intent was released Monday.

Click here for ABC7's full coverage on the SF Homeless Project.

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