City tries PR campaign as part of encampment sweeps

SEATTLE — Seattle has a new strategy to convince taxpayers they're making a dent in the homeless population.

The number of cleared encampments was mentioned during a presentation to the Seattle City Council's Civil Rights Committee as part of a PR campaign so that the public can see how the city is spending millions of dollars to combat homelessness.

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​KIRO 7 looked into the 69 encampments Seattle has shut down during the first four months of 2018.

That number includes encampments like the one under Yesler Bridge which have been shut down numerous times. The Yesler Bridge encampment has been swept four times since January. The most recent sweep was Tuesday.

On an uncharacteristically warm May afternoon, Charles Knight was piling up what remains of his belongings.

"I've been in a lot of sweeps," he said. "From the field, to the stadium, to King Street, Dearborn, a lot.

Now he can add Yesler Bridge to his list.

"This sweep we didn't know about," he complained. "It just popped up."

The Seattle City Council's Civil Rights Committee held a briefing on a 2017 encampment monitoring report.

It included data on nearly 70 encampment sweeps this year, many of them repeats. Committee chair Lisa Herbold said the city will soon release figures that show 30 percent more people got housing last year than the year before.

"There have been about 5,000 exits from homelessness to permanent housing," she said. "But yet we still see so much visible homelessness. That's because more people every day are becoming homeless."

A visit to homeless encampments provided evidence of that. But there were also homeless people coming to Seattle from someplace else.

The man inside a tent across from the Union Gospel Mission says he moved from Auburn three weeks ago.

When he was asked why he came to Seattle, he said, "I couldn't afford my apartment."

The 2017 count showed more than 11,000 people experiencing homelessness in King County. More than 2,600 people were in transitional housing and nearly 3,500 in emergency shelters. The lion's share -- nearly 5,500 people -- were unsheltered.

The public is told most of the homeless are from King County.

"I used to have a home, five acres," said Tina Frank. She says that was back in Montana. But she said she didn't come to Seattle from Montana.

"No," she said, "I came here from Las Vegas."

Nevertheless, Frank said she has deep ties to the Puget Sound region. She said she is trying to get into the Downtown Emergency Services Center.

Meanwhile, Knight was on the move again, looking for another temporary place to call home.

Herbold confirms the city is planning to hire a point person to oversee the Homeless Navigation Team and "establish a stronger connection with the broader long-term system of homelessness response."

The search for the new hire hasn't begun yet.