Tag Archives: Homeless Encampment Sweeps

Incoming Cold Snap This Weekend Could Prove Lethal for Unhoused People. Here’s How to Help.

by Carolyn Bick

“Deaths of despair” is what WHEEL executive committee member Anitra Freeman calls most of the ways in which 106 unhoused people have already died this year.

“Suicides, homicides, and drug overdoses — all three are deaths of despair. They are things that happen when people are extremely stressed out. … All the time, being homeless is stressful, but it’s even more stressful than ever, this year,” Freeman said, referring to the current novel coronavirus pandemic.

But there is now another worry plaguing the unhoused community and their advocates: the incoming early cold snap set to hit Seattle this weekend.

Already, two people have died from hypothermia this year, data from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office compiled by homelessness advocacy and shelter nonprofit SHARE/WHEEL shows. One of those deaths was in late May, when the recorded low that day was 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the high was 74 degree Fahrenheit.

“In this environment, it doesn’t have to be extremely cold to kill you. Just getting wet and not being able to get dry can kill you,” Freeman said.

David White, who lives in SHARE-managed Tent City 3 in North Seattle with his nine-year-old spaniel Gabe, knows well what it feels like to be wet and cold. A recent transplant from Iowa, White has only been living in Seattle since June, but has been on the road on and off for years. He is one of the city’s nearly 12,000 unhoused residents, and currently only lives here so that he can have access to a neurosurgeon to handle some spinal problems from which he will then need to heal in a sterile environment.

While White himself has a safe place to rest his head, he knows that not everyone does.

“We have resources being donated to Tent City, and we have protection from the elements in these tents … but people sleeping loose in doorways, or people who are camped by themselves don’t always have that support,” White said. “We’ve got hot food donated every day and a coffeemaker. [Other unhoused people] don’t have those means necessarily to get themselves internally warm.”

Even though the managed encampment is a much better place to live than out on the street, White said supplies of warm items — particularly blankets and men’s clothes in sizes ranging from medium to 2XL — are running low. He said the encampment could also use “anything waterproof,” as well as wool socks, which are much better than cotton socks that let in the cold and, once wet, are essentially useless. Even sleeping bags with broken zippers are great, White said — “makes a great quilt!” — and new tents are always welcome to replace the ones at the encampment that are old and falling apart.

The best things are “stuff for layering,” White said, because of the variable temperatures and the incoming cold.

“It’s warm now … but this morning I sure needed them,” White said, referring to blankets and warm layers. “We don’t have an indoors to go to.”

White also said that while Tent City 3 is fortunate enough to have portable toilets that are emptied daily, those who don’t have access to that would likely appreciate a plastic bag and a roll of toilet paper.

“It’s hard to find a safe place to go to the restroom,” White remarked. “A lot of people are using alleys or bushes or whatever.”

Anyone interested in donating to Tent City 3 can find more information about what the encampment needs here, while other SHARE/WHEEL-managed encampments’ needs can be found here. Donations to Tent City 3 can be dropped off at any time.

For those who are interested in helping, but want to start closer to home, Homeless Organizing Community Seattle (HOCS) co-organizer Chris Barker suggested personally asking an unhoused person who lives in the neighborhood what they need. Barker invited those who are interested in getting involved in this way but don’t know where to start to join the HOCS Facebook group and connect with other community members who may already be doing such work. He also said that people may drop off donations at The Waystation, a no-contact drop-off spot in SoDo that is a part of an ongoing grassroots homeless mutual aid network started up in response to the current pandemic.

The cold only serves to add an extra layer of danger to the threat the unhoused community already faces from the pandemic. With nowhere to sleep and little-to-no access to hygiene, it’s more likely that unhoused people will be exposed to the novel coronavirus and die from COVID-19, the disease the virus causes.

To that end, Freeman and other homelessness advocates at SHARE/WHEEL are trying to get the Seattle City Council (SCC) to continue funding for SHARE/WHEEL to operate its shelters 24 hours per day, seven days per week into 2021, rather than going back to the old model of only being able to keep the shelters open at night. The group is also pushing for a slew of other proposed budget items, including upgrades to a currently shuttered hygiene center that would allow unhoused people to take showers and wash their clothes, as proper hygiene is key to staying healthy

Freeman said that she and other have been trying to get ahold of other SCC members, as she said only Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant have signed on to the proposal to continue SHARE/WHEEL shelter funding, and a third councilmember needs to sign on for it to pass. However, they haven’t been able to leave voicemails — the mailboxes are full — and emails just receive an automated reply saying the office has been inundated with messages. The deadline for such requests is tonight, Oct. 22.

“I don’t know if any of our last-minute pleas are even going to be noticed before midnight … but keep trying,” Freeman said. “That’s all we can do.”

Late in the evening on Oct. 22, the Emerald learned from Freeman that Councilmember Lisa Herbold signed on before the midnight deadline to continue funding to allow SHARE/WHEEL to keep their shelters open 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

Freeman also said that the Homeless Remembrance Project’s Women in Black will be standing vigil at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 27, for another seven unhoused people who died just this past week. Though the group usually holds vigils on Wednesdays, Freeman said they have altered the vigil schedule this coming week to coincide with the SCC’s budget hearings.

When the Emerald asked Freeman, White and Barker what the City could be doing to better help its unhoused residents, Barker said that the City could provide funding for more sanctioned encampments, housing, and more case workers. Freeman said that the City should be opening severe weather shelters now.

White said that that while he has personally not yet had any negative experiences with the City, he thinks the City needs to stop sweeping encampments, a practice that makes people feel unsafe.

“If somebody felt like they weren’t going to have to go hide, maybe they would make a safer camp, or take precautions to sleep in a more obvious spot,” White said. “Really, it’s the harassment by the police that’s really a problem for homeless people.”

Author’s Note: The organizations and groups mentioned in this article are just a few within the City of Seattle.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.

Featured image: A pile of 1,000 stones sits on an ofrenda meant to commemorate homeless people who have died in Seattle at El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, Washington, on Nov. 1, 2018. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

A Precarious Compromise on Homeless Outreach Inches Forward

by Erica C. Barnett

(This article was originally published on PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.) 

On Monday, Seattle City Council homelessness committee chair Andrew Lewis introduced a proposal that would restore funding for outreach to homeless encampments and lay the groundwork for what Lewis described as a new City “unsheltered outreach and response team” that would replace the controversial Navigation Team.

The surprising part is that the council and mayor’s office worked together on the legislation. 

Continue reading A Precarious Compromise on Homeless Outreach Inches Forward

Durkan Suspends Navigation Team

by Erica C. Barnett 

(This article was originally published on PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.) 

On Wednesday afternoon, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced in a press release that she is suspending the operations of the Navigation Team — which removes encampments and provides outreach and shelter offers to their displaced residents — and pursuing “out of order” layoffs for 70 Seattle Police Department officers, “with the expectation that layoffs cannot be completed by November 1, 2020.”

The City Council’s adopted budget, which Durkan unsuccessfully attempted to veto, calls for a reduction of 100 police positions and the elimination of the Navigation Team. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Navigation Team has not been removing encampments in significant numbers.

Continue reading Durkan Suspends Navigation Team

POETRY: (S)Weep Us

by Art Gomez and Melanie Reed

Nowhere to go but another hole,
another alley, another pole,
another spread, another pitch,
just more dirty sons a bitch
caught in a sweep to push us out
some show sympathy, some sow doubt.
Exterminate this Shantytown,
lives dismantled, tents torn down,
ground impounded, trash swept clean
it’s as if we’ve never been.
We’re so easy to revile,
the Jungle is our domicile.
No Favala, no Hooverville.
Home is where

the heart beats still.

Continue reading POETRY: (S)Weep Us

Mayor’s Office Refuses to Budge on Encampment Removals as Nearly Six-Hour Meeting Ends in Stalemate

by Erica C. Barnett 

(This article was previously published on The C is for Crank and has been reprinted with permission.) 

If you’re looking for a takeaway from last Wednesday’s nearly six-hour hearing on legislation that would place some limits on the city’s authority to displace homeless people from encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s this: Nothing is going to change. Representatives from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration made it abundantly clear, loudly and repeatedly, that the mayor does not consider policies governing encampment sweeps to be a matter that can be legislated under any circumstance, and that now is also not the time for discussing non-legislative solutions, such as changes to the administrative rules governing encampment sweeps in general.

Continue reading Mayor’s Office Refuses to Budge on Encampment Removals as Nearly Six-Hour Meeting Ends in Stalemate

OPINION: Mayor Durkan, if You Care about Public Health, Stop the Sweeps

by Julianna Alson, Omid Bagheri Garakani, Miranda Vargas

Dear Mayor Durkan,

We are Seattle-based public health practitioners and homeless service providers imploring you to stop the removals of homeless encampments. We also endorse Councilmember Morales’ Council Bill 119796 to limit encampment removals during the state of emergency. Seattle is under the national spotlight of pandemic response. You have the choice to set an example for the country with evidence-based public health strategies that truly protect public health and safety.

Continue reading OPINION: Mayor Durkan, if You Care about Public Health, Stop the Sweeps

Co-LEAD Allowed to Start Moving People From Seattle Streets Into Hotels, Too Late to Help Those Removed in Last Three Sweeps

by Erica C. Barnett 

(This article was previously published on The C is for Crank and has been reprinted with permission.)

More than six weeks after the Seattle-based Public Defender Association (PDA) launched its Co-LEAD program in Burien, the diversion program has come home to Seattle and began serving five homeless clients last week. Co-LEAD provides hotel rooms, case management, and other basic supports to people experiencing homelessness who have been in the criminal justice system and lack legal options for making money during the COVID-19 pandemic. After launching the program in Burien in April, the PDA had hoped to enroll some of the people who were dispersed throughout the city during several recent encampment sweeps, but were unable to do so because the city moved ahead with the removals before Co-LEAD case workers could identify and enroll new participants.

Continue reading Co-LEAD Allowed to Start Moving People From Seattle Streets Into Hotels, Too Late to Help Those Removed in Last Three Sweeps

Encampment Residents, Outreach Workers Say Trash Pile Beneath I-5 Six Years Old, But Officials Haven’t Taken Action

by Carolyn Bick

The mountain of trash that caught fire in South Seattle on the afternoon of May 18 has been sitting under Interstate 5 for several years, according to both residents of the encampment in which the trash pile is located, and outreach workers. But though officials from both the City of Seattle and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have in that time visited the encampment, and the city’s Navigation Team appears to have done a full encampment sweep in late May 2018, neither city nor state officials have taken action to remove the trash.

Continue reading Encampment Residents, Outreach Workers Say Trash Pile Beneath I-5 Six Years Old, But Officials Haven’t Taken Action

Despite “Suspension,” Encampment Sweeps Continue in the Chinatown-International District

by Erica C. Barnett

People wheeling suitcases, lugging hand baskets, and pushing grocery carts trailed slowly out of a large homeless encampment on South Weller Street Thursday morning, passing through police barricades and a crowd of onlookers as the city’s Navigation Team removed an encampment that, as recently as last weekend, included nearly 70 tents. About 30 police were on hand to escort an estimated 36 residents away from the area. Continue reading Despite “Suspension,” Encampment Sweeps Continue in the Chinatown-International District

Grassroots Mutual Aid Network Provides Services for King County’s Unsheltered Community

by Carolyn Bick

The wind catches Dee Powers’ short, wavy hair as they lean out of the window of the mobile home they share with their partner. Squinting in the sun, Powers banters with Daniel Ojalvo, who has come to drop off jugs of bleach and other supplies that Powers will divide into small amounts for distribution among the homeless community.

Both Ojalvo and Powers are part of the homeless mutual aid network, a grassroots effort that formed to serve the homeless community during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The community often doesn’t have access to regular sanitation or food in normal times, and has even less access now as the pandemic sweeps across the world. Much of the regular homelessness outreach has dried up, since it’s more difficult to do outreach safely these days. That’s where the mutual aid network, in partnership with existing nonprofits and other community organizers, comes in.

Continue reading Grassroots Mutual Aid Network Provides Services for King County’s Unsheltered Community