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Homeless camps, crime hot spots getting cleared out in Seattle

SEATTLE — Homeless camps across downtown Seattle are getting cleared out as part of the city’s new tactic to address homelessness.

Now businesses, residents, and the unhoused are all reacting to Seattle and King County’s new plan. Some businesses say they are already seeing a positive difference. But others are worried if leaders will follow through on promises.

Some people who are homeless say the city is already falling short on the promises to offer assistance and shelter.

Others are concerned some neighborhoods will be neglected.

It’s been a particularly rough week for the area near 3rd Ave and Pine Street in downtown Seattle.

“Just this morning there was a big fire right here,” said downtown resident Leslie Buker, pointing to a charred spot outside a vacant storefront that used to be T-Mobile until earlier this month. “I worry as the rest of the city is bouncing back this summer that this area might get left behind. Because it is so dangerous,” she said.

Buker says not long before the fire, she witnessed a man in crisis in the same spot.

“There was a man sitting there pulling off pieces of his skin and he was putting the skin in little piles next to him. There was a lot of blood. I called 911 and I said ‘please come help this man,’” Buker said. But she says the man didn’t want an ambulance, so none came.

“That horrifies me — what are we doing to help these people?” Buker said.

Right before the interview with KIRO 7 on Friday, she witnessed another incident by the McDonald’s on 3rd Ave and Pine Street.

“There was a dead woman on the ground and a bunch of other people trying to help her and I’m on the phone with 911,” Buker said. “I couldn’t feel a pulse. She wasn’t moving,” she said.

Buker said dispatch walked her through chest compressions and she and several others tried to help. Neither CPR nor Narcan helped bring the woman back to life and she was transported by ambulance.

“Is she going to be back out here in three hours? It breaks my heart. Breaks my heart!” Buker said. “That shook me. These are real people,” she said.

Nearby businesses like Seattle Shirt Company say it feels like the city has reached a low point.

“I think everybody has had it. We’ve hit rock bottom, all the burglary and the crime, all the businesses shutting down, this is a wake-up call,” said Jay Ashberg, owner of Seattle Shirt Company. In the past week though, he has already noticed a difference with shoplifting being taken more seriously at the downtown Target store, and prominent camps getting cleared out.

Ashberg says the city’s new leadership — who plans to get the nearly 1,000 homeless people downtown into housing — brings hope.

“I think it’s amazing. It’s well overdue,” Ashberg said.

Camps at Seven Hills Park in Capitol Hill and downtown at 4th and Pike were already cleared this week. On Friday, the city cleared the infamous crime-ridden corner at 12th Avenue South and South Jackson Street in Little Saigon.

And the camp across from City Hall along 4th Avenue, between James and Columbia, has notices up, saying the camp will be cleared Sunday.

The city has promised help.

“What’s driving it is we want to house people. We get them the treatment they need and deserve,” said Mayor Bruce Harrell during a press conference on Thursday.

But people at this camp say no help has come.

“That is a lie. That is a lie,” said Rio Hanson, who is homeless and currently at 4th Avenue and Cherry Street.

“Have you been offered a motel room or anything?” KIRO 7′s Deedee Sun asked.

“Oh, not at all,” Hanson said. “Everybody here wants a motel room. Everybody here wants to go inside,” he said.

The city said in a statement on Friday that outreach workers from the HOPE team have visited the camp to be cleared Sunday multiple times, and said three people were referred to shelters. The city added that, as the COVID-19 pandemic improves and more workers return to the office, keeping sidewalks clear is a growing priority.

“While we do our best to offer shelter as available through the City’s HOPE team and the efforts of the RHA, we cannot allow tents and other structures to remain in the right of way if they are causing an obstruction or presenting a public health or safety risk. Under the city’s existing procedural rules, there is no requirement for offers of shelter when an encampment is creating an obstruction,” said Kevin Mundt, spokesperson for the Human Services Department, in an email.

Mundt said 12 camps have been removed so far in 2022 and the HOPE Team has made 144 referrals to shelters so far.

FULL STATEMENT FROM THE CITY:

Today, February 18, the City posted notices at 4th Ave from Columbia to Cherry St that any remaining belongings must be removed by February 20.

The HOPE Team’s System Navigators were onsite today and earlier this week engaging individuals residing in the encampment and have been sharing information regarding the planned removal with their outreach provider partners. As of yesterday, there have been three HOPE Team shelter referrals from this vicinity into 24/7 enhanced shelters this week. Two referrals from 3rd Ave from Cherry St to James St and one referral from 4th Ave from Columbia St to Cherry St.

As the Covid-19 pandemic recedes and more workers return to the office, sidewalks and rights-of-way must be clear and open for everyone to use safely. Obstructed sidewalks create immediate safety hazards that make the right-of-way less accessible. An impeded sidewalk prevents neighbors, workers, and visitors from freely walking and successfully navigating around the city. As Seattle works toward a strong economic recovery in our downtown and neighborhood business districts, ensuring sidewalks and other rights-of-way remain clear and open for everyone is critical, as is making sure people living unsheltered are not camping in spaces that are dangerous because of high pedestrian and traffic volumes.

The City of Seattle is working alongside the RHA on their new Partnership for Zero initiative, an effort with a targeted focus on bringing inside people living unsheltered in Seattle’s downtown and offering individualized, person-specific services. The city is strongly supporting this effort and provides funding, resources, and city staff to help with the goal of housing every person experiencing homelessness downtown.

While we do our best to offer shelter as available through the City’s HOPE team and the efforts of the RHA, we cannot allow tents and other structures to remain in the right of way if they are causing an obstruction or presenting a public health or safety risk. Under the city’s existing procedural rules, there is no requirement for offers of shelter when an encampment is creating an obstruction. To support a harm reduction approach, we are asking our outreach partners to work in collaboration with the HOPE team to engage with people currently living unsheltered in places that are obstructing safe use of sidewalks or other transportation rights-of-way, to connect them to shelter resources (as available) or support safe relocation. It is important to balance the immediate need to ensure safe and equitable access to sidewalks while we work to expand services and strategies to bring more people inside.

As of February 11, there had been 12 removals in 2022 so far. We can provide an update early next week on totals to date.

The HOPE Team has made 114 referrals to shelter so far this year.