SEATTLE — Keeping Seattle parks and sidewalks clear of tents. That’s a new promise mayoral candidate, Bruce Harrell, made Thursday while announcing his homelessness response plan.
He held a news conference at Green Lake Park near a large homeless camp. Most of the people in attendance were residents who live in the neighborhood.
Harrell said if he is elected, people will see big changes in how the city handles homelessness.
“We will ensure our city parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces, sidewalks and streets remain open and clear of encampments,” Harrell said. The pledge brought cheers and applause from the crowd.
Neighbors said the homeless situation in the area keeps getting worse.
“Most importantly, something needs to happen now. We’ve been watching this issue grow and grow and grow,” said Forey Duckett, a Green Lake neighborhood resident.
Duckett coaches youth running. He also used Lower Woodland Park to train children for years. Recently, the city stopped issuing permits to use the space, citing safety concerns. A walk through the area on Thursday showed it was crowded with campers, generators and power cords.
“We are not running through tents, running through needles. I’m not going to run with a bunch of kids and put them in danger,” Duckett said.
Harrell said if he is elected, all that will change. But he still promised he will keep a housing-first approach where no one will be moved unless they’re offered housing first.
“We will not criminalize poverty,” Harrell said.
Inside the camp, two people currently living at lower Woodland Park said they lost the roof over their heads after Everspring Inn was condemned last year, and they were forced to move out.
Now, they have nowhere else to go.
“Mr. Harrell, we’re up in the trenches, bro. Come talk to us up here, not down there. What about the people up here? We just want to get what we’re due for — housing,” said Jose Carrillo.
Another resident at the camp said she has been clean for 17 years but is sick now.
“I’m very fragile and disabled,” said Gail Pedersen. She appeared to be frail and had trouble walking without help.
“It is humbling to me because I just started staying here. And I’m in tears over all of this. This is just one little park; this is everywhere,” Pedersen said.
Harrell is pledging to build 2,000 units of supportive housing in his first year in office.
“We need to treat this homelessness crisis like the crisis it is,” Harrell said.
A resident asked Harrell how he will handle homeless campers who refuse to accept treatment or housing.
“That’s a tough situation. I just think there has to be consequences for that kind of action,” Harrell said, bringing applause again from the crowd.
Harrell softened the statement, later adding that his approach will be to have crisis team members — unrelated to law enforcement — work with the individuals.
“They will find a way to reach that person, and we will still ensure our parks are safe. So let me deal with that on a case-by-case basis,” Harrell said.
Current City Council chair and fellow mayoral candidate, Lorena Gonzalez, declined an on-camera interview on Thursday.
Her campaign sent a statement, criticizing Harrell’s plan of lacking a detailed funding plan and accusing Harrell of using “our unsheltered neighbors as political props.”
“Without funding, his promises of more shelter and more services are just more of the same empty promises we’ve heard for years,” Gonzalez’s campaign manager said.
Gonzalez’s homelessness response plan indicated she will raise funding to build shelter through taxes on the wealthy on a city level.
“As a co-sponsor of the JumpStart Seattle payroll tax, I know that, if elected Mayor, I must work with the City Council and community members to make big corporations and the very wealthy pay their fair share to end homelessness,” according to the statement on Gonzalez’s website.
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