Locals are reporting an increase in homeless people making places to live around Capitol Hill’s core business districts — and trespass data reports from SPD back that up — but officials tell CHS it is difficult to say what is happening and where perception vs. reality starts when it comes to the campers of Broadway and Pike/Pine.
“There aren’t easy solutions for how to deal with street encampments,” said Sgt. Jay Shin of the East Precinct Community Police Team.
“In the last couple of years, we have noticed an increase.”
In reporting about the camping issue, CHS is worried about doing more harm than good. Even as we began collecting information on the issue, CHS saw the potential to do harm as a few emails and phone calls with local officials and the Seattle Police Department in recent weeks were followed by morning dispatches for officers to rouse campers from Broadway and Pike/Pine storefronts and move homeless people — usually with no place to go — along. But as you’ll see in the stats, below, SPD officers are being called out on a regular basis to deal with campers.
Meanwhile, readers continue to ask what is happening — and what is being done:
Broadway and the side streets are getting out of control. Apparently it is now alright to simply block the sidewalk and camp for weeks on end. At Broadway and Republican there is usually a camp of 3 to 6 people all day and night every day. The long vacated Broadway restaurant also houses a large camp most days.
What does appear to be happening is a big jump in reports of trespassing on Capitol Hill and the East Precinct — and a growing focus on people living on the streets of Capitol Hill. In recent years, SPD has been aggressive in deploying its trespass program with local businesses to make it easier to have people removed from private property. It’s not a completely pure proxy for homelessness around the Hill as it includes people 86′d for behavior but in our anecdotal examination of the data.seattle.gov records and East Precinct radio traffic, CHS believes it provides a measure of the situation.
In 2013 and 2014, the East Precinct recorded approximately the same number of trespassing reports in January, February, March and April – around 3 a day — a huge jump over the same period in 2012. But as a percentage of the total trespass incidents reported across Seattle, Capitol Hill and the East Precinct has pulled out to an unfortunate distinction. In 2014, the East Precinct was responsible for nearly 27% of SPD’s trespassing dispatches.
This heat map from the SPD dispatch data shows where the 2014 incidents were reported in the city as a whole.
Shin said the increased focus on the trespassing problem is definitely a factor in the rising numbers for Capitol Hill. But he said SPD believes there are other important factors in the trends.
“Part of it is increasing numbers of people coming into the city from other cities and other states,” he said. “There’s a huge influx of people.”
If Shin and SPD are correct, homeless camping as a function of population joins Capitol Hill’s list of challenges and, we suppose, opportunities as increasing density and demand for places to live envelopes the neighborhoods of Central Seattle.
More important is what is being done to give people better options for a place to sleep.
Shin said the laws are limited and for many campers, the police intervention is part of an endless circle of being pushed about. Often police arrive with services and resources on offer. Sometimes campers takes them up on it. Sometimes campers don’t.
For those who want a place in a shelter, demand is as high as ever — the annual One Night Count of homeless people sleeping without shelter in King County showed a 14% jump in 2014. While King County’s “10 Year Plan to End Homelessness” provides what framework it can to stem federal and state budget cuts, more nimble efforts like the Nickelsville camps in the Central District provide some near-term help. Some other creative ideas for more beds might be considered. But as rough as things might be for the homeless in Seattle, life outside the city is even more challenging. The city’s economic strength has also left it as the location for more than 90% of the county’s emergency shelter beds.
In the meantime, one Hill business manager says she is learning to live with the new neighbors. “As long as they move before I open, I tell them it’s OK,” she said.