Parents of Lowell Elementary students say a wooded public pathway that cuts through the Capitol Hill school grounds has long been used as a place for people to camp and inject drugs.
After months of parents calling on Seattle Public Schools to address the issue, the Seattle Department of Transportation fenced off the short trail on Friday. Crews also cleared trees and shrubs along the path at E Roy between Federal and 11th.
“From our point of view, the right of way must be permanently closed,” said
Suzanna Mak of the Lowell Elementary PTA.
According to Mak, used needles, condoms, and human waste are a common site on the path that winds between the school building and its playground. While the PTA has documented needles found on the site as early as this week, one neighbor tells CHS there has not been an encampment in the area for several years. Seattle Public School students return to school September 7th.
UPDATE: SDOT spokesperson Norm Mah said that after the city received complaints from the school district and PTA, SDOT decided to temporarily close off the path due to the “ongoing public health hazard” posed by discarded needles.
Once the temporary closure is in place, we will assess the situation and explore a number of long-term remedies with the objective of ensuring the safety needs of the elementary school while preserving the mobility needs of the neighborhood. We will work with all essential stakeholders on the longer-term resolution.
Attempts to deal with Seattle’s heroin epidemic by clearing camps and street injection sites have been criticized by harm reduction advocates who are calling on the city to allow for safe consumption facilities.
In May, CHS wrote about the consumption site concept and how the program could come to Capitol Hill to provide addicts and users (mostly targeting users who inject) with low-threshold access to a supervised space to consume pre-obtained illicit drugs, clean equipment, emergency care in the case of overdoses, and referrals to healthcare and drug treatment services if desired by the user.
For Mak, the hazards posed by the path were too significant to keep it open as many students traverse it daily. She did tell CHS that there would be an opportunity for community input on the closure.
The PTA wants to inform the Capitol Hill community of this closure and talk openly about the reasons for it, and answer any and all questions about our position. Though the Seattle Department of Transportation has not informed us of any process or steps to come, presumably there will some community involvement while the plan is formed for a permanent solution.