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Another view of Capitol Hill homeless stats shows shift from downtown

After CHS's report on Broadway homelessness, a popular camp spot at the old Broadway Grill building was gated off (Image: CHS)

After CHS’s report on Broadway homelessness, a popular camp spot at the old Broadway Grill building was gated off (Image: CHS)

Since 2012, Capitol Hill’s share of the city’s trespass incidents has risen steadily while downtown and Belltown have seen a decline at nearly the same rate. One explanation is there are just more homeless people camping out along Capitol Hill’s storefronts and sidewalks. But the trend may also indicate more homeless people are being moved up the Hill.

The statistics come to light after CHS’s report earlier this month that showed Capitol Hill’s growing share of Seattle trespassing incidents as East Precinct put its most commonly used citation to deal with the neighborhood’s homeless problem to use on a more and more frequent basis.

This new look at the stats compares the growth on Capitol Hill with the trends in the downtown core where business leaders have been pressuring the the city to do more to curb crime and create a more shopper-friendly environment around Westlake Center.

In the first quarter of 2012, 13.6% of the city’s trespass incidents occurred in Capitol Hill’s East Precinct, while 49.3% occurred in the West Precinct, which includes downtown and Belltown. In the first quarter of 2014 East Precinct’s share rose to 26.8% while West Precinct’s dropped to 36%.

(Source: CHS/

(Source: CHS/

The shift covers a period of increased focus on quelling homeless incidents around downtown and Pioneer Square. In 2010 SPD began adding more foot patrols downtown in response to mounting complaints from business owners over aggressive panhandlers and campers.

Another part of the equation is the expanded enforcement of downtown’s sit and lie ordinance, primarily used to get those sleeping on the street up and moving in the morning. A bulk of that work is performed by the roughly 30 ambassadors from the Metropolitan Improvement District’s safety team. In 2013 the program expanded into several more blocks of Belltown and Pioneer Square. The ambassador wake-ups generally reduce the number of trespassing calls to SPD, said MID spokesperson James Sido. In turn, more people could be choosing to move outside downtown’s sit and lie zone. In February, March, and April of this year ambassadors responded to 2,545 trespass incidents.

Also at play is an ongoing effort in recent years to clarify to police officers and business owners how the city’s trespassing laws should be enforced. In 2011 the city’s Contract Trespass Program was changed after it faced a civil rights lawsuit for unfairly targeting homeless people. An effort to train officers on enforcing both the trespass program and the city’s standing trespass ordinance could account for some of the increase in trespass incidents on Capitol Hill.

“There was some confusion of officers and the public,” said Matthew York, the city attorney’s East Precinct liaison. “An officer can still do something for you if you’re willing to be a witness in court.”

From 2004-2013 criminal trespass ranked as the 15th most cited violation by Seattle police officers, according to data recently reported on by CHS.

On the day CHS initially reported on the increasing number of encampments around Capitol Hill, building owners at the Broadway Grill cleared out a longstanding camp from a sidewalk alcove on their property as a Seattle Police officer stood watch.

What to do with a homeless person’s possessions, which occasionally sprawl out into public space, is a touchy issue facing property owners and police. At the Broadway Grill camp, a shopping cart and basket, a busted computer monitor, and heroin paraphernalia were among the tightly packed possessions that nearly filled-up a truck bed. Following the clean-up, the building owners erected a tall gate to prevent future encampments.

The building owners told CHS they had repeatedly asked the camper to leave before resorting to the barrier.

Addressing income inequality has been a top priority for Mayor Ed Murray in his first term in office but he hasn’t directly addressed the city’s homeless population in his initiatives and shelter, mental health and addiction services in the city, county, and state continue to be cut. The mayor’s office did not return several calls for comment on this story.

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27 thoughts on “Another view of Capitol Hill homeless stats shows shift from downtown

  1. This report just confirms what has been an increased problem in our neighborhood, mainly along Broadway and side streets. But in the past 2 weeks it has been less noticeable, probably because of the many citizen complaints and City staff (SDOT, Human Services, SPD) responding in an effective way. The strange activity in front of the church (on E Republican) with all the bicycles (? stolen) and huge accumulation of crap, has been cleaned up, and there is no longer an encampment at the old Broadway Grill.

    The street people tend to go where they can get money by panhandling. Giving them money does not “help” them…it only enables their drug/alcohol addictions.

    • Calhoun: that camp with all the bike trailers merely moved further north and was in front of 710 E 10th for 10 days before a complaint brought SDOT notices and the dispersal of the camp that was nearly blocking the entirety of the sidewalk. I wouldn’t be surprised if the campers just found another more out of the way place on a side street.

      People need to know that you can go on-line and report an encampment like these, and the city will at least offer some services to the people, not just send a trash truck.

  2. How much of the increase in homelessness in the area directly correlates with slashed funding for mental illness? My wife used to volunteer at Sound Mental Health and I distinctly remember seeing far more homeless people camped out on Capitol Hill very soon after she complained about SMH having to deal with huge funding cuts.

  3. The situation won’t go away as long as we view the homeless, and not homelessness, as the problem. Driving them out of downtown just brought them to the hill; gating doorways will simply force them down the street. We’re trying to fix the symptoms, not the root cause.

  4. I can’t fix the problems of homelessness, what I can do is not provide them with fuel for their addictions.

    • Why can’t you fix them? Panhandling is NOT the major fuel for addiction. Poverty, racism and lack of opportunity are the main fuels for addiction. Those are all things we can fix. Very few folks who are addicted to drugs and living on the street didn’t get there because they were wealthy investment bankers who careers were tanked by drug addiction. They are mostly people who never had a fair shot in the first place. People who were in foster care or who grew up poor, or who didn’t have any opportunity for advancement. Drug use and addiction is only a symptom of the problem. I have a couple ideas for ending homelessness.

      • I agree with you to some extent, but I think most people are pessimistic that they can personally affect the root causes of homelessness. “Poverty, racism, and lack of opportunity” will take decades to eliminate, if at all. In the meantime, our streets and our neighborhood need to be protected from all the antisocial/unacceptable behaviors of the homeless.

        The deep-rooted problems you mention may be the long-term fuel for homelessness, and need to be addressed if at all possible, but the more immediate fuel is drug/alcohol addiction, as well as mental illness.

      • I think we’re mixing up two issues here: Funding for homeless/mental health services and panhandling. In my opinion, we should aim for two things: Restore and increase funding for these social services AND discourage panhandling. I’m sorry, but I agree with Patrick’s coldhearted but realistic assessment. If you hand out money on the street, there’s a good chance you’re only enabling an addiction. Once a person knows a certain spot is a good spot for revenue, they will “set up shop” there. I know I would! So here’s my challenge for you kind-hearted souls. Take EVERY dollar you’re handing out on the street, and give it to a homeless advocacy group, mental health clinic, homeless shelter, or whatever. Instead of contributing a buck to an addict’s next fix, I give $50 to the DESC. I figure that should cover about 50 times I’m hit up for change. Plus I know that money will be FAR FAR more effective in treating the root causes of homelessness. It’s not rocket science, people. Nor do you have to compromise your generosity.

      • I think that you are right and I agree that if you give $$ on the street, they will keep coming. I just got back from a trip to San Francisco, and my hotel was right around the corner from Union Square. So much money – and so many homeless people – in one concentrated area, and I’m sure it’s because tourists and others give out money and it’s known as a lucrative place to panhandle.
        Not to gloss over problems with homelessness here in Seattle (we definitely have them), but it was an eye-opener to see how bad it is in SF, which is an otherwise beautiful city. I was almost literally stepping over people to get down to the BART station on Powell Street.

  5. People can have all the ideas they want, those generally require resources+time+money. My idea is not to fund someone who I have doubt’s about their usage of my money. Yes, it’ a personal choice to give money to panhandlers and I chose not too give money.

    There are a variety of services to get off the streets, generally requiring a commitment to being clean and/or sober.

    We do not want to force people to take their meds, so if they have mental issues and refuse medication…well that’s life.

  6. There’s three groups we’re talking about here:
    1) Mentally ill / Unable to take care of themselves / Hoarders / Homeless or in shelters
    2) Squatters / Homeless or choose not to live at home / People with signs asking for marijuana / Much more able to get their lives in order (versus group 1)
    3) Panhandlers that live in assisted/low income/roommates and have decided asking people for money (and getting it) is enough to get the extra they need.

    That’s how I see it.

    PS: I’m always amused by the feminine black guy that always ask for just “coins”. Always polite. Definitely unique.

  7. It’s all about choices. It’s what we teach our kids, make good choices and good things happen. So we want to throw money, resources and effort at those to far gone in the wrong path hoping that miraculously they will see the light and begin making good choices?

    It sounds callous to even think that some people should just be forsaken, but it is a reality and it is in our streets. Those that can be saved will save themselves. They will stop making bad choices and get themselves off the street. Having met a few saved souls I can say on their behalf that what caused the turn around was their own will to do it.

    How do we nudge that will? We can set some boundaries like making it illegal to camp on the street, sit and lie on the sidewalk, panhandle in certain areas, relieving yourself in public, drinking in public places, walking in the streets in traffic, littering (throwing your trash on the sidewalk) etc, etc. Those here before us figured this out and enacted these types of laws and supported the efforts to enforce it. Today those laws are no longer enforced.

    • If , “it’s all about choices”, then how do we explain the disproportionate numbers of African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ and foster kids who are homeless. Is it simply coincidence that these marginalized groups are over represented among the homeless? Are you implying that these groups tend to make worse choice?

    • I agree. The main reason that our laws our not being enforced is that the City Attorney has no will to do so. The police officers know this so they look the other way and allow all the social dysfunction to continue. One example: camping on public property used to be a criminal offense, but it is now a civil infraction, and the police don’t bother writing tickets because they know they will not be paid and the City Prosecutors will not pursue a case.

  8. As a society we have decided to fund unnecessary wars and wars based on lies and defending corporate interests above caring for our own people. What we spent and continue to spend in Iraq and Afghanistan could, house, feed, clothe, provide medical care and educate every needy person in this country. That money came out of federal funding for safety net programs and aid. Why do we act so freakin’ surprised with the increased levels of homelessness and poverty this country has witnessed in the past 10 years.

  9. Another issue that needs to be addressed is so called “Greyhound therapy” the dumping of the mentally ill, oftimes from other municipalities and states on the streets of Seattle. It is not doing these poor people any good to be dumped on the streets, far away from their on family and communities. Institutions that do this should be prosecuted and sued by the communities on the receiving end of this practice.

  10. This reminds me of something: back in the 90s, the Jack-in-the-Box on Broadway (now home to the hole-in-the-ground that will be the Sound Transit station) became the epicenter of a sudden increase in homeless on the Hill. At the time there was a story going around that there was some kind of handout happening there (food? blankets? I don’t remember) being funded by a business improvement group… the kicker being that it was the *U-District* business improvement group, bent on moving their homeless problem — which was bigger back in the 80s and 90s — to another neighborhood. And they succeeded.

    Like I said, I just remember hearing the story and never tried to verify it. Any longtime Hill dwellers remember this?

  11. I’ve been around a long time and don’t remember what you’re describing. There used to be a feeding program on Broadway once a week or so, but I believe it was run by some social service group, not a business group. What you are describing is probably an “urban legend.”

    • Yeah, it feels like an urban legend — but it also feels like something that was probably tried somewhere (just not Seattle — too Machiavellian) and not unlike the “bus fare out of town” practice mentioned above. And regardless of the backers and the motive, the net effect may have been the same: there definitely seemed to be a shift in the young homeless / squatters from the U District to Capitol Hill at that time (though this was happening amidst other changes and larger socio-economic factors, so who knows).

  12. Pingback: Mayor’s tour talks crime, yes, but also trash, blocked sidewalks, dark streets — Where are your Capitol Hill Find It, Fix It spots? | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle