VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – As Vancouver struggles to find solutions to homelessness, Seattle is trying to deal with the problem with the help of regulated tent cities.

Seattle already has six encampments and Mayor Ed Murray is now seeking approval for three more.

The camps are meant to be interim shelters — regulated, insured for liability, and run by local service organizations with the aim of finding people permanent housing.

Is it an idea worth copying north of the border?

Judy Graves was the homeless advocate for the City of Vancouver for years and doesn’t believe the model is right for the Lower Mainland, citing her experiences on the front lines of many camps.

“Every time, the conditions deteriorate quickly and become unhygienic, very violent, and unsafe. This is not something we should be pursuing as a solution,” she tells News1130.

“I think that once tent cities are authorized, they will become an institution, very much like the food banks have become. They have become permanent in Seattle and Portland and they are invariably a substandard way for people to live. It’s almost impossible to live in healthy conditions outside anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. It’s too wet.”

Graves also believes that if tent cities were to be approved in Metro Vancouver, there would be less political pressure to fund shelters and subsidized housing.

Shayne Williams, executive director of the Lookout Emergency Aid Society sees some positives to regulated tent cities, but says they are a stop-gap measure.

“We don’t want to see anyone living in tents in the Pacific Northwest with the weather we face and tents being considerably sub par to even the SRO stock,” he says.

“I think [Seattle's tent cities] certainly bring people together. It can be regulated; it can be a step in the right direction. But it’s no substitution for affordable housing. Ultimately, I think this is almost an act of desperation.”

Williams says regulated tent cities are a “bit of a slippery slope” and there is a risk they could become permanent fixtures in cities that approve them.

“The second we open these types of tent cities, it becomes housing. People get stuck in these places. I know some of the tent cities in Seattle have actually put a 60 or 90-day cap on people’s stay in an effort to keep people moving forward. But what can happen is that they fall into a lifestyle that they can’t get out of. All of a sudden, what is meant to be a temporary stop becomes a lifestyle. That’s a really scary proposition,” he adds.

Williams says the Lookout Emergency Aid Society relies on a system of outreach, shelters, and transitional and permanent housing — a “continuum” to meet the specialized needs of people coming off the streets.

Responding to an increase in unauthorized homeless camps, Seattle’s mayor proposed legislation last week that would allow and regulate new tent cities on public and private land, saying organized encampments have less impact on neighbourhoods and provide a safer environment than what is found on the streets.