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Rather than more talk about Seattle’s homeless sweeps, here’s what one looks like

With reporting by Alex Garland

Wednesday morning under I-90 at Rainier Avenue S, an outreach team and the Seattle Police Department performed a homeless sweep. People were living in sleeping bags, hammocks and using cardboard boxes. There were large piles of trash. Approximately two truck beds were seen overflowing, but much of the mass was made up of large slats and pallets.

SPD said the homeless individuals were given notice and signs were posted around the area of the looming sweep. Some, according to police, had subsequently already left the area by morning.

Those who remained were put in contact with outreach, but some refused services. One such person was a woman who said she didn’t want a shelter because of “bedbugs and bitches” or “not nice people.” Health concerns like bed bugs and communicable diseases are frequently cited for reasons some avoid shelters. Others tend to say their stuff will get stolen in shelters, and/or they’ll get paired with bad influences or predators.

SPD officer Brad DeVore was on the scene.

“We know there are issues with the process,” DeVore said.

REACH social workers Gabe Reyes-Gomez and Joel Killough, in connection with Seattle’s Navigation Team, said there are many layers to why sweeps happen. Sometimes it’s a part of the Washington State Department of Transportation, other times it’s planned maintenance for Seattle parks.

Killough said some of those swept Wednesday accepted shelter and some decided to move to unsanctioned encampments. There weren’t specific numbers available. He understands moving from one encampment to another is difficult, especially knowing the alternate might also get swept.

An American Civil Liberties Union representative was present as well, but there wasn’t much to do.

Casey Jaywork, a member of the Transit Riders Union and Housing for All Coalition, was present and said only about two homeless individuals were still around.

“The sweeps compound harm by chasing people around in circles,” Jaywork said. “It sounds like most of them were displaced before authorities even arrived. People are not being moved from one dangerous to a less dangerous place, but from more visible to less visible places.”

Jaywork says he assumes homeless individuals know what’s best for them in their current situations. That’s why people leave before the sweeps occur, Jaywork says.

“This shows how the eviction part of the sweeps hurts the outreach part of the sweeps in many cases,” he said. “We heard this from outreach workers as well. It can make it harder to build relationships and stay in touch.”

An SPD spokesperson said he was not aware of any arrests made at the sweep.

Last year, there were 601 sweeps and Seattle spent $6,316,001.93 on the homelessness state of emergency as of January this year, according to city documents. UPDATE: Due to an editing error, the original version of this report stated that more than $6 million had been spent on sweeps. The $6.3 million is the amount spent on the homelessness state of emergency last year. We have corrected the error.

“All that money could be given to outreach and shelters instead,” Jaywork said.


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18 thoughts on “Rather than more talk about Seattle’s homeless sweeps, here’s what one looks like

  1. Seems like the other side of the story is being left out. Interview the people the run the shelters and ask if bed bugs are really an issue instead of reporting on it as fact. Living outdoors has it’s own set of issue but that’s not being reported on. Also, an interview with our Mayor or other executives overseeing the “sweeps” (a politically charged word) would provide a balanced story as to why they are conducting them (safety, health issues, City liability, etc.). I’ve also read, in more balance articles, that the Navigation teams go a few days before to give notice and to get people into shelters. Is that true? Why wasn’t that reported?

    • I agree. And I’m very skeptical that the negative aspects of shelters which are often-reported by homeless are actually true. I think that, in many cases, the real reason that homeless people refuse shelters is that they can’t use drugs and alcohol there.

      City protocols currently include visits by the Navigation Team well in advance of a “sweep.” So, the residents of this camp would have been offered shelter and other services at least several days before the clean-up was conducted……so the comments by Casey Jaywork are misleading.

    • Hey, Nathan. This was an on-the-scene-only report. With this type of reporting, we can’t extend out extra quotes from shelters, the mayor, etc. It would require extra resource and time that we simply don’t have as a three person team balancing multiple pieces and trying to publish in a reasonably timely manner.

      But you CAN look at our previous coverage on the matter in which mayor Tim Burgess (in his council position), previous mayor Ed Murray, and future mayor Jenny Durkan talk on this very matter.

      I’ve previously (before my time at CHS) tried digging around to find inspection reports on shelters but it was incredibly difficult to find recent ones or simply any shelter inspections in general. As for the Navigation Team, it appeared in this instance that they weren’t able to reach out to people for placement before people left.

    • Also, bed bugs have been around long before us and will continue to be around long after us. More people live with bed bugs than they actually realize and the bugs are generally harmless. I’d rather sleep in a warm, safe bed with a few bed bugs than sleep out in the wet, freezing, cold… Drugs play a huge role in the homeless issue.

  2. Ah yes… sleeping in filthy, wet, stinking tents with no sanitation in an unsupervised and secluded place along with those same scary people (and worse) is much better…..

    Why am I skeptical?

  3. When the hell did the comments on this site turn into

    If homeless shelters sound so great to you guys, go ahead and save yourself some rent money, and move into one.

    • A silent majority of Seattle residents want the city to shut down the counterproductive encampment shit show. That is why Durkan won in a landslide. The only option should be to go to a shelter or move on. There should be no unsanctioned encampments allowed anywhere in the city ever, even for a day. It is bad for homeless people and bad for the city to let this happen.

    • Sloopy and Lokiloki – I’m with you.

      I’m tired of smelling and seeing the stinking piles of refuse and human waste that are left in doorways all over Capitol Hill.

      I’m tired of having to wonder if it is safe to bike commute in the early morning or late evening through the I-90 tunnel and the nearby park.

      I’m tired of having to walk a different route to the store to avoid the area that I know homeless people come to buy drugs – sorry, no you do not appear to just be causally hanging out over there…

      I’m tired of having to rationalize things like stepping over someone to use the ATM…

      I’m tired of seeing needles thrown wherever.

      I’m tired of not being able to even walk around a city park without fear of walking into a hostile encampment, complete with a vicious, snarling, loose dog… (this was in the small Lake Washington View park – right across the street from the Bush School).

      My patience and empathy has run dry. I cannot romanticize these encampments into modern day Hoovervilles and I don’t believe at all that people always tell the truth when you ask them about substance abuse and why they refuse shelter…

    • OK, just so we’re clear: the consensus here is “ban poor people from being in public because they make us feel uncomfortable”.

      I don’t have a great solution either – the nearest encampment to me is about 3 blocks away, and it’s small, though it’s still sad and awful – but I want you to acknowledge that this is what you are saying.

    • @Lokiloki…..I agree. In a sense, the mayoral election was a referendum on how to handle the homeless camps, and Durkan is on record as wanting to continue to clean them up (with advance outreach and notification), as well as better efforts to move homeless into more stable housing. She won in a landslide…..the silent majority has spoken, thank goodness.

    • @asdfg: “no the consensus is to enforce the laws we already have.”

      So send out police to constantly dislodge the ever rotating homeless encampments, that’ll solve the problem! Hell, why not throw the homeless in jail at many times the cost of just building housing, providing mental treatment and drug rehab. I’m sure the homeless will suddenly have an epiphany, realize the errors of their way, and either become productive members of society or apologize for inconveniencing you and leave town!

      Seriously, every time I see someone say “just enforce the laws” to solve the homeless problem, this is what they appear to be implying.

  4. You want me to be all hard nosed and callous about it – yeah people should not be able to choose a lifestyle that threatens public health and safety. If they have substance abuse issues they should have to get treatment, if they have mental health issues they should have to get treatment. If they are offered help with rehousing they shouldn’t have the option to reject it.

    This goes way beyond simply making people “feel uncomfortable” it is making people actually unsafe. Should we allow things get to the point where we have to hose our sidewalks down with bleach like San Diego has been doing because they are having hepatitis outbreaks? Should kids continue to be subjected to feces and needles in their playgrounds? Should we ignore the high rates of property crime that we have here?

    If I allowed my house to become a health hazard the city could demand I demolish it. Why should we allow people to trash our city with impunity?