Camping in the end zone: How Seattle's homeless crisis is spilling onto playfields

SEATTLE — Teaching young boys how to play football as a team can be a challenge for anyone. Coaching when your football field is also a common homeless camp makes it a different kind of contact sport.

“We make contact with them every day, kicking people off the field on a daily basis," said Interbay Eagle youth football coach Ron Onyon, whose teams practice and play at Interbay Athletic Complex, which is part pf the Seattle park system.

"We have to move their gear before we practice or play, because there's someone sleeping on the field every single day of practice," he said.

Parents have recorded video of a tent in the corner of the field's end zone during a league game, when the man inside refused to move. Coach Daniel Whitney says Seattle police have not been responsive, when they've been asked to move people and tents off the field, or out of the park.

"We've had needles all over our field throughout the season that we've had to pick up," said Whitney. "I've been attacked by a group's dog when I asked them to move off the field, and we've had drug use happening right on the edge of our field within five feet of kids practicing. We often have to move around them."

The Interbay Eagles pay the City of Seattle more than three-thousand dollars per year for permits to use the field for practice and games.

Coaches say if a proposed Seattle homeless ordinance passes, it would make their current problem far worse.

"We would be at risk of losing all of this," said Whitney. "If there were wide open rules, I could show up and there could be thirty tents out here. What do you do with twenty-eight little eight and nine-year-old kids who just want to play sports?"

According to the proposal, only encampments that pose "an imminent and likely public health or safety harm" could be considered a hazard and cleared within 48 hours. Even in those cases, campers in city parks would -- under the proposal, be given 48 hours’ notice to leave, but a multi-step process to find alternative camp sites could take days longer.

In many cases, the city would be required to begin a 30-day process to notify and offer services to people living in encampments before forcing them to move out. The law would apply to people living in tents, cars and RVs.

"It's already been typical enough that we're becoming a little numb to it," said Onyon. "But right now, we're here for the kids."

Whitney said kids and taxpayers are losing out to anyone who wants to make anywhere their home.

"It feels a little bit unfair because there's all the people that do pay their taxes and are actively trying to make their community better are then having to deal with people that don't have to follow the rules."