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Capitol Hill Community Post | The Council, Camps, and the Woods

An assemblage of hypodermic and other IV drug user supplies, plus a few crack pipes, that were collected by volunteers I led during a September 28 event. Five of the syringes were scattered elsewhere, with the rest coming from a Green Seattle Partnership restoration site off the Mountains to Sound Trail.

From Craig Thompson

Friday, September 20, I came home from the Climate Action rally at City Hall, where I heard District 2 candidate Tammy Morales speak, along with Shaun Scott, running in District 4. As a District 2 resident, I reached out to Tammy.

Since 2003, I’ve led restoration work in The Jungle. It includes the East Duwamish Greenbelt on the west side of Beacon Hill. I understand the environmental cost of homelessness. Large fires can start at campsites and spread over acres of woodland. I’ve fetched knives, a gun, a crossbow, spears, clubs, other weapons, lots of glass, metal, trash, and human waste. I’ve helped plant thousands of trees in a place where homeless people are violently targeted by those who run the narcotics trade.

Thursday, October 10, I visited Tammy’s campaign office on Rainier Avenue. Two aides and I talked at length. I was encouraged to send another message. The gist of it is:

“For six years, camps at Dr. Jose Rizal Park have stayed in place. Hundreds of trees planted by volunteers were killed by campers. How do you reconcile environmental restoration and climate change with your position that camps should not be moved?”

She hasn’t answered.

District 3 incumbent Kshama Sawant also says camps should not be disturbed in our woods, no matter how much they disturb them. She would cut $8.7 million from The City budget, defunding the Navigation Teams that reach out to campers, and so put an end to sweeps. “Sweeps” is to opponents as “cleanups” is to The City.

Lisa Herbold In District 1 has a different call on the Navigation Teams. It’s easy to see her motives through a filter depending on which side you take on the sweep/no sweep divide. She would make quarterly funding contingent on metrics in the same way as contracted service providers. Yet this is a city effort, not that of a non-profit second party. It’s appropriate accountability, yet it could interrupt outreach and environmental cleanups.

Lisa has also been critical of the Navigation Teams for the level of cleanups they do. That isn’t their mandate.

I’ve cleared dozens of abandoned camps. Some were crime scenes. Some were elaborate, others simple cardboard beds. Some burned down. The saddest was where a couple were chased off by drug runners. All their stuff – medical and personal supplies, clothing, shoes, a Spanish Bible – was left in a pile of torn up tarps, blankets, and sleeping bags. It can take hours to clean up after an individual camp; it can take days to clean up an entrenched site of three or more camps.

It will take more resources than the Navigation Teams to mitigate the environmental damage from camping in Seattle’s woods. Though they remove some trash and litter, they aren’t equipped to do restoration work.

Stopping cleanups and outreach as some candidates advocate, or jeopardizing secure funding, will not help Seattle’s forests or ultimately the people who live in them. We need to elect to the City Council people who can find creative solutions to the sweep vs. no sweep dilemma. They need to see the forest and the trees.

Craig Thompson lives on the northern tip of Beacon Hill, where he has been involved in forest and orchard restoration. In 2016, he and another Green Seattle Partnership steward presented to the City Council a non-sweep recovery plan for the East Duwamish Greenbelt at the request of CM Bruce Harrell.

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