Neighbors say there’s no help with encampments ‘trashing’ protected wetland

SEATTLE — Neighbors who live near North Seattle’s Victory Creek Park, which is part of the Thornton Creek Watershed, have been trying to alert every city department about the growing number of encampments they see trashing and polluting what is supposed to be a protected fragile wetland.

But with the recent defunding of the city’s homeless Navigation Team, they may be left with no real options for help.

“We’re abandoned,” said neighbor David Hobbs. “We’re completely abandoned by this city.”

Hobbs and his neighbor Justin Littell pointed out rows of tents and camps, some made of wood hammered into protected trees, some strung with electricity tapped from city light poles. They describe seeing needles and waste dumped into the creek.

Nearby, a permanent sign described how important the ecology of this Thornton Creek wetland is. It reads: “The system falls apart if one link disappears.”

“We’re not allowed to build close to the park here,” Hobbs said. “But these people are building in here and taking over inside of here, and dumping oil and waste and other things in the soil that’s going into the water.”

A Seattle City Parks worker told David and Justin his son was stuck with a hypodermic needle while they were recently working to remove trash from Victory Creek Park.

Damage to the creek where salmon run -- and the city spent $11 million to restore only two years ago -- are only the beginning of the concerns here.

“We hear nightly fights and screaming,” Hobbs said. “We’ve got people chasing us out with crowbars saying we don’t have the right to access the park.”

Neighbors posted video of someone in the wooded park who appeared to be firing a pistol at birds in the trees. Another shows a shirtless man shouting threats and slurs at a neighbor who was hoping to retrieve a stolen bike.

“It’s a place where families used to gather to have outdoor time which is the most precious time we have in the state of COVID,” said Littell. “There are needles in my driveway, my little girl is looking though the window asking me, ‘What is this gentleman is doing in my front yard?'"

In 2018, the city did respond to complaints that illegal camps were polluting the watershed. David and Justin reached out to every city agency they could from city council on down. But since the city council de-funded the homeless navigation team, there seems to be no hope for any kind of response.

KIRO 7 sent inquiries to several city departments Tuesday, and received this response from Seattle Public Utilities:

“Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, removals of unauthorized encampments and obstructions by the City of Seattle have been suspended, with exceptions for extreme public health and public safety circumstances. However, last month, Seattle City Council eliminated funding for the Navigation team,” the email read.

“This means that City-conducted outreach to people at unauthorized encampments, including shelter referrals and removals of unauthorized encampments that pose public health and safety risks, is suspended.”

Neighbors are still hopeful they will find a solution to protect the watershed, and offer services to the people living in it illegally.

“Mayor Durkan, come on down,” Littell said. “We’ll walk you through the park, we’ll walk you through the neighborhood. You can meet our neighbors. I do know that the city is now not doing anything, which is not a solution.”