Lake City homeless encampment takes over park that residents saved from demolition

SEATTLE — People in the Lake City neighborhood said a Seattle city park and playground are completely unusable because it is overrun with tents and criminal activity.

Albert Davis Park is a green space that residents in the neighborhood saved from being demolished and turned into a parking lot about 10 years ago. Now, some are regretting that effort.

Neighbors said people at the park have been cutting limbs off trees to start fires and that the noise from gatherings at night is sometimes loud enough to rattle windows.

Residents in the area said the problem isn’t homelessness — on that issue, they can empathize. Rather, their biggest concern is crime.

“To see what it’s come to now, it’s just sad,” said Shannon Ellis-Brock, a neighbor.

The park is right next to the Seattle Public Library Lake City branch, but you can barely see any of the reading benches or the playground. The park sign is covered with graffiti.

“It has turned into close to 50 tents,” Ellis-Brock said.

“Part of the issue here is the density — this park is less than three-quarters of an acre,” said Jimi Hightower, another neighbor.

Some structures at the camp are more permanent. Neighbors pointed out a large structure with two stories, a proper door and a functioning doorbell.

Across a narrow street, a few yards away, are town houses.

“You do not want to leave your house. You don’t even want to be in your house,” said Greg Bartell, who owns one of the town houses.

“To tell your son or daughter, ‘I’m sorry you can’t go outside and play. You live across the street from a park, and you can’t go out and play,’” Ellis-Brock said. “Frankly, being scared to leave your house,” she said.

Multiple neighbors in the area said the park has become a known area for buying and selling drugs. Along with garbage, hypodermic needles litter the street.

Neighbors said they’ve witnessed much worse.

“I’ve seen a young girl literally pulled out of a vehicle yelling, pulled into a tent while I’m on the phone with 911. By the time police came, she was gone. They couldn’t find her,” Ellis-Brock said.

Neighbors said that together, they’ve reached out to the city more than 100 times.

“The fact that nobody will respond to us. Nobody will respond to a single email. A single phone call. A single cry for help and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ I mean, I don’t understand it,” Ellis-Brock said.

She said about 10 years ago, the city of Seattle had planned to turn Albert Davis Park (established in 1964) into a parking lot for the adjacent library and community center.

Ellis-Brock, her husband and other neighbors fought those plans and saved the park. She said they pointed out Lake City is a diverse ZIP code with more apartment units and less green space, which made the park even more valuable. Then they worked with an architect to reshape the space.

“In retrospect, I wish we never would’ve fought for that. I wish they would’ve let it become a parking lot,” Ellis-Brock said.

Even people who are unsheltered said that with so many new faces at the park in recent months, they feel unsafe there.

“Some people, they don’t do drugs, they don’t drink, they’re simply waking up and trying to get through the day. And they, unfortunately, might be having their stuff robbed,” said Edwin Trejo, who said his property had been stolen three times — now leaving him with only what’s left in his backpack.

However, Trejo acknowledges he knows many people who aren’t interested in shelters.

“Because they like the life they’re in, or it might be COVID (concerns), or it might be their records, or it might be their comfortability,” Trejo said.

KIRO 7′s Deedee Sun reached out to Seattle City Council members, including Teresa Mosqueda, chair of the Select Budget Committee, and Debora Juarez, whose district includes Lake City, to ask how unsanctioned, dangerous encampments will be handled with no more Navigation Team.

Neither of the members responded.

Sun also tried to ask about the issue during a Zoom budget preview meeting for the media last week (10/15) but was muted by the meeting host.

“I don’t know what’s happened to this city, frankly, and it’s really heartbreaking,” Ellis-Brock said.

Growing encampments is an issue that has sparked deep frustration among Seattle residents across the city.

On Tuesday (Oct. 19), Council member Andrew Lewis introduced legislation that could potentially once again allow the city to use resources to address unsanctioned encampments.

Part of the draft legislation stated, “The Council expresses its policy intent that HSD will continue to coordinate and respond to unauthorized homeless encampments for the remainder of 2020.”

A spokesperson from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, Kamaria Hightower, called it a “first step in addressing Mayor Durkan’s significant concerns about the elimination of all City resources to coordinate outreach and mitigation of health and safety impacts at unmanaged encampments.”

Hightower said Durkan “looks forward to Council fast-tracking” the legislation.

The statement Hightower emailed read, “In the coming weeks,” the city will prepare to put a plan into action, to scale up outreach and to address “the most hazardous encampments that pose a risk to encampment residents or surrounding communities.”

The full statement from Durkan’s office is as follows:

"COVID-19 has presented immense challenges to our city, including individuals living unsheltered. As a City, it is the responsibility our elected leaders to ensure that our communities remain safe for our housed and unhoused neighbors.

"As part of the 2020 budget, Council eliminated the city’s only team which coordinates and manages unmanaged encampments. Before City Council’s veto, Mayor Durkan had proposed a plan to move more people off the street and into safer spaces through an alternative approach, which was rejected by Council.

"In recent weeks, Councilmember Lewis, the Mayor’s Office, and providers have worked together on expanding outreach and restoring citywide outreach positions at HSD, understanding the significant impacts of the elimination of the Navigation Team.

"This proposal is a first step in addressing Mayor Durkan’s significant concerns about the elimination of all City resources to coordinate outreach and mitigation of health and safety impacts at unmanaged encampments. In the coming weeks, the City will prepare to operationalize this plan to scale outreach, shelter, and address the most hazardous encampments that pose a risk to encampment residents or surrounding communities. As Council knows, outreach and mitigation at those encampments that present significant public safety or health risks may continue to need the support and services of the Seattle Police Department. This bill would attempt to reduce the number of such cases by expanding outreach.

“Mayor Durkan looks forward to Council fast-tracking both this legislation and $3 million for hotels to move hundreds off the streets and into shelter and permanent housing over the next year. If Council moves quickly, we have the opportunity, address the most hazardous encampments, and move more people into safer spaces.”