City clears homeless camp near Chinatown-International District

The City of Seattle is clearing out a large homeless camp near the Chinatown/International District, calling it a public health and safety risk as the city continues to battle COVID-19.

SEATTLE — A Seattle city crew on Thursday cleared a sprawling camp at 12th and Weller, which neighbors say has been a growing problem for weeks.

Leaders of the city's Navigation Team say 26 people living there were offered shelter.

"I feel safe once again," said Curtis Marr, a car repair shop owner who wanted to thank the city.

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Two days before, KIRO 7 visited the encampment outside his business, which was full of trash, needles and human waste.

City officials said the encampment has seen a homicide, stabbings, assaults and gunfire.

“More violent crime and lower-level criminal offenses, lack of social distancing, increased biowaste, needle hazards, and all of that impacts not just the people who are living here but also the surrounding community,” said Tara Beck of the Navigation Team.

The city’s Navigation Center, which provides shelter and a range of services for people who are homeless, is nearby.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 2,600 people signed a Chinatown-International District safety petition calling for the clean-up.

The petition also criticizes a proposal by the district's own city council member, Tammy Morales.

She's sponsoring a bill that would block most camp removals on public and private property during the pandemic.

Morales cites CDC guidelines that people in encampments should "remain where they are" and that dispersing people can spread COVID-19.

Morales' proposal does allow a few exceptions for clearing camps, but public safety is not one of them.

Mayor Jenny Durkan's office says the city has already limited camp removal during the pandemic and is following CDC guidelines that governments should weigh all risks, which includes the impact on vulnerable communities nearby.

In a letter to the council, Deputy Mayor Mike Fong wrote that in his 20 years at City Hall, “this bill is as poorly drafted and analyzed as I’ve ever seen.”

For the second time this week, KIRO 7 asked Council member Tammy Morales for an interview.

On Thursday, council officials responded that she did not have time, but that she has been meeting with leaders of the Chinatown-International District.

Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant also support the bill.

To address hygiene concerns for the homeless population, the city is setting up two shower trailers Thursday. One will be at the King Street Station five days a week. A mobile shower trailer will be hosted in Lake City and Seattle Center. Other locations are under consideration.

King Street Station will also receive a hygiene station equipped with two portable toilets and a handwashing station with 24-hour access.

A map of available hygiene services throughout the city and their operating hours can be found at this link.