Photo depicting a houseless individual with a fish-shaped sign hanging from a pole that reads, "Fishing for Kindness." A cup dangles from the end of the fish-shaped sign.

OPINION: Centering Compassion in Little Saigon

by Mimi To and Jasmine Tran

Hi, our names are Mimi and Jasmine. We are members of the ACRS Civic Engagement Youth Organizing Team. ACRS (Asian Counseling and Referral Service) is a nonprofit founded in Seattle that offers community-based multilingual and multicultural services to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. We are both Vietnamese American women who care deeply for our community and work to serve its goals.

We would like to respond to the current climate in Little Saigon here in Seattle, specifically regarding the approach to the unhoused population in the area. Earlier this year, in February, local business Pho Bac drew attention to the situation through their social media. 

On February 8th, they posted a video on their Instagram that featured a video of an individual cleaning themself outside of the building, overflowing garbage bins on their property, and a group of Black adults gathering outside of their storefront. In their post, they spoke about the harm that the unhoused community posed to small businesses in Little Saigon, calling for the Seattle Police Department and the mayor of Seattle, Bruce Harrell, to take action. 

Despite their intentions to advocate for their community, their post had no regard for the people displayed in their post. In an attempt to draw attention to a deeply underserved neighborhood that has suffered from the effects of gentrification and neglect from the city, Pho Bac’s use of anti-homeless, classist, and aggressive rhetoric instead reinforces long-standing stereotypes. 

While referencing drugs in the neighborhood, the video switches to a group of Black people having a conversation. While perhaps this might not have been an intentional editing of the video, it is certainly thoughtless in that it presumes an association between these individuals and substance use, while also perpetuating harmful stereotypes of the Black community. 

Such stereotypes and anti-Black racism are not new, but a long-standing issue in the Asian American community. The “Model Minority Myth” — which posits that Asians are more academically, economically, and socially successful than other marginalized racial groups — paints a false narrative that with enough hard work, anyone can succeed in America. As a function of white supremacy, the myth drives a wedge between Asians and other marginalized racial groups.

The Pho Bac post also states that “Black market (stolen goods, drugs, sex crimes) is expanding and they are out trying to spread their territory. Not ON MY TURF.” Their identification of sex work as “sex crimes” contributes to the stigma of sex work, further criminalizing and harming workers who, much like our Little Saigon small businesses, are also fighting for their livelihood.

A few weeks later, on February 25th, the Pho Bac Instagram account posted an update. The photo is of a cleared sidewalk in Little Saigon. In the caption of the post, they thank the mayor, City of Seattle, and SPD for “the fastest response I have ever seen.” They also stated that they “hope to continue a healthy relationship and to keep working towards approachable, sustainable solutions.” Despite the well-intentioned nature of this post, their actions were the opposite of community care. Sweeps of the unhoused community are unsustainable as solutions for the housing crisis in the city and they are inhumane to our neighbors. 

As we work to protect our neighbors and community, our solutions must explore the roots of the housing crisis in Seattle. Over the last couple of decades, as the tech industry boomed, more high-paid workers arrived in Seattle. This resulted in more high-end living spaces to appeal to the new community of workers. The combination of these factors drastically increased the overall prices of housing in Seattle. 

Additionally, with the spread of COVID-19 and the loss of employment all around, the issue of housing has been magnified. As people lost their jobs, homes, and loved ones, many were left without enough resources to have stable income and shelter. However, with this increase of unhoused people came more sweeps around the city. In places where they have built communities, the Seattle Police Department has displaced them, torn down their shelter, and treated them as less than human.

Sweeps are an extremely violent and harmful practice enacted by the city’s law enforcement. These sweeps are often done on short notice (or unannounced) and are also only posted in English, which is exclusionary to unhoused folks who do not speak English or speak limited English. This has recently been brought to light by a mutual-aid group called Stop the Sweeps Seattle, who brought interpreters to a site of sweep in the CID earlier this month. Sweeps displace unhoused folks from their shelter and belongings — which are either taken away or destroyed. These belongings often include clothing, food, and important documents.

Sweeps are falsely posited as an effort to care for the community, but this calls into question who the city considers “community.” We firmly believe that our unhoused neighbors are part of the community too, and sweeps are a facet of the larger systemic issues that contribute to houselessness in the first place. Displacing unhoused folks from their belongings without increased support for finding housing, employment opportunities, mental health services and health care, as well as access to food and basic necessities is not caring for the community — it is putting the wants of some higher-income, housed community members over the needs of those who are unhoused. Sweeps dehumanize and criminalize houselessness. 

When addressing sweeps we must also address where they come from. The institution of policing — one birthed out of racism and protecting the capital of the elite — is inherently oppressive. From our civic engagement and policy director, Shomya Tripathy: “ACRS’s stance has always been that the city must invest in community safety for all housed and unhoused residents through meeting sanitation needs, public restrooms, affordable housing, small business support, behavioral health services, and community-led development and not police presence. We maintain that police presence often comes at the expense of our most marginalized community members.” 

The solution to houselessness is not increased policing, which historically has and continues to harm BIPOC communities, women, unhoused community members, and those experiencing mental health crises. With this in mind, many businesses and organizations in the Seattle area have been engaging in mutual-aid efforts to support our unhoused communities.

Mutual aid is a practice that is rooted in the belief that community members share a responsibility to take care of each other. It is not charity, but rather an act of solidarity and reciprocity built upon the collective understanding that the systems and institutions in place were never built for our most marginalized folks to survive. Mutual aid is about collective care for the community, unquestioning of recipients’ background or circumstances. It is not transactional. Mutual aid can look like direct cash transfers or assistance, material support, supplies like tents, thermoses, and blankets, food, clothing, and more. 

Just up the street from Pho Bac is a vegan deli called Chu Minh Tofu (@chuminhtofu on Instagram). They have been engaged in mutual-aid work in Little Saigon, including free meals on Sundays to anyone in the community, as well as hosting supply drives on their social media to support displaced and unhoused folks. In an interview with The Seattle Times, owner Tanya Nguyen said, “We help everyone no matter who they are … We should not put people in jail — the City should give people options to enter detox, enter housing, and take on jobs.” 

The efforts of Chu Minh reflect this idea of mutual aid and how increased policing does not serve to protect our most marginalized folks. Other mutual-aid organizations supporting the unhoused communities in the Seattle area that you can support are Stop the Sweeps Seattle (@stopthesweepsseattle), Homies Helping Homies (@homieshelpinghomiesseattle), and COVID-19 Mutual Aid (@covid19mutualaid).

As a team focused on civic engagement and community advocacy, we stress the importance of centering compassion when addressing these types of situations. It is crucial that as we work to protect and uplift the neighborhood of Little Saigon and also maintain our humanity in the process. This can be done with the provision of community resources, such as mutual aid, safe injection sites, and awareness through social media about future sweeps and necessary supplies. All of these options can help avoid police involvement and create safer environments for everyone. We take this opportunity to affirm that our support lies with the most vulnerable folks in our city, and want to push for community-based solutions rooted in radical love and care. 

If our community would like to further discuss these issues, we are open to organizing a community forum to discuss the current climate of Little Saigon and collectively work toward community-based solutions.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Mimi To (she/they) is a first-generation Vietnamese-American student, youth activist, and community organizer. Born and raised in Seattle, Mimi is currently a fourth-year at the University of Washington studying psychology and education. Their work is rooted in radical love, resistance, and the Vietnamese value of collectivism. To learn more about their experiences and involvement, visit their LinkedIn page.

Jasmine Tran (she/her) is a Vietnamese American woman, daughter of immigrants, who was born and raised in the Seattle area. She currently studies English as a second-year student at the University of Washington and dedicates her time outside of school to immigrant advocacy and community organizing. She is committed to solidarity, working to unite communities through storytelling. Visit her LinkedIn page to explore more about her personal goals and experience.

📸 Featured Image: Photo by Dawn Umstot/

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