District 3 Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant talks about efforts to improve tenant rights in the city.
District 3 Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant talks about efforts to improve tenant rights in the city.

The Pledge movement spent Friday night collecting baby food while having very adult conversations about homelessness, addiction and activism at Peloton bike shop and cafe.

“I think all of us know that we are one bad situation from being homeless, or we know someone who’s been homeless, or we’ve been homeless ourselves,” said Devin Silvernail, founder of Be: Seattle and The Pledge, a growing consortium of Seattle businesses offering basic services and a safe space for homeless individuals.

Friday night’s attendees were invited to sign in, nominate more businesses they want to see take The Pledge and sign up for volunteer training.

The first speaker during The Pledge event was Patricia Sully, with the Washington chapter of Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-WA), which launched last November and is advocating for safe drug consumption sites.

“Europe has been doing this so long that their very first one is in a museum,” Sully said. 

While there is no model for supervised consumption sites in the United States, Seattle is among a number of big cities exploring their implementation.

A King County heroin and opioid addiction task force, formed in partnership with Seattle, Auburn and Renton, is recommending two sites be tested, one in Seattle.

“Capitol Hill has really been a leader in supporting this idea,” Sully said, adding the Capitol Hill Community Council, Lifelong and Be:Seattle are among the 26 coalition members advocating for community health engagement locations (CHEL).

Sully spoke about the successes of the supervised injection site Insite in Vancouver, British Columbia, such as no overdose deaths and a sharp reduction in outdoor injection use, as well as Hepatitis C and HIV infection.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray recently returned from a site visit at Insite with a group of public health officials, to review the model.

“The first thing that stood out was the number of lives they’ve saved; some 5,000 overdoses have occurred at Insite since its inception and yet there has not been a single fatality to date,” Murray said in a news release. “This success in keeping people alive means that the public health teams in Vancouver then have the opportunity to help people move into treatment as part of the continuum of care for people with substance abuse disorders.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order Friday, Oct. 7, addressing statewide strategies for curbing opioid use and overdose deaths. That order did not include exploring the use of safe injection/consumption sites.

VOCAL-WA is advocating for supervised consumption sites, so people who smoke or inhale drugs also have a place to go to safely use and, when ready, transition to addiction treatment. Sully said there is also good reason to encourage people injecting drugs to switch to inhaling, which would mean less risk of overdose and blood-borne pathogens.

The organization has been vocal about where the consumption sites should be located, Sully said, and is advocating for a colocated site, taking advantage of an established trust with a community partner. VOCAL-WA will be engaging in a number of events and direct actions over the next three months.

Silvernail, who lives near Lowell Elementary, said a popular pathway around the school might not be shut down now if people had a safe place to inject and dispose of their needles. The department of transportation is hosting community meetings to find long-term solutions to discarded needles: 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25, in the cafeteria of Lowell Elementary, 1058 E. Mercer, and 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, in the Pike/Pine Room at 12th Ave Arts, 1620 12th Ave. 

District 3 Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant addressed homelessness and housing affordability, which have been major focal points for the council this year, saying many residents in the city are just a few rent increases away from facing homelessness.

“I think activism is key to all of this,” Sawant said.

Sawant has been pushing tenant rights legislation to close loopholes that allow landlords to exploit renters, she said.

“We don’t want to be a city where we require renters to draw the landlord lottery,” she said.

Sawant cited legislation passed in June that delays rent increases in buildings that require serious improvements to satisfy housing code violations. Sawant named the legislation after Carl Haglund, “who may be the only slumlord who has a law named after him,” she said, “and I don’t think he’s too happy about that.”

A measure introduced by Sawant to place a cap on move-in fees for renters passed unanimously out of the Energy and Environment Committee on Sept. 27, but Sawant said there could be obstacles getting approval from the entire city council. Rather than preventing renters from moving due because they incur thousands of dollars in fees, the legislation would allow rentrs to pay security deposits, move-in fees and last month’s rent in installments over six months.

The councilmember said she is now advocating for $160 million that had been set aside to replace the Seattle Police Department’s North Precinct be reallocated for 1,000 affordable housing units. While strong activism, which included shutting down council chambers, delayed the precinct replacement project, Sawant said it will inevitably come back up.

Sawant said she is concerned about the potential defunding of transitional housing in Seattle, a two year program that gives residents time to secure jobs, housing and place their children in schools.

The Seattle City Council is now in its budget season, she said, and now is the time to speak up and hold the council accountable.

Silvernail said Be:Seattle has plans in 2017 for a number of tenants rights workshops, similar to work he conducted while residing in San Francisco.

Former mayor Mike McGinn (2009-13) capped off the night by sharing lessons learned during his time as an activist prior to his time leading the city. McGinn helped lead the Sierra Club, starting in the mid-1990s, where he said he learned how to organize and use media resources to spread political messages. He also ended up leading the Greenwood Community Council prior to his bid for mayor, having first gone before the group to talk about the need for sidewalks in the neighborhood.

McGinn encouraged attendees looking to affect change to avoid looking ahead at a political future when they can accomplish real work at a grassroots level.

“You can always work on what you believe in, right now,” he said.

McGinn is now on the board of the Social Justice Fund, which raises money to support grassroot organizations.

He encouraged people to engage in meaningful work, make friends and teach others the skills needed to not only be an effective activist, but also be people that attract others to a cause.

“It’s called a movement when you do that,” he said. “Then it’s a movement.”

Find out more about The Pledge at seattlepledge.com.