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City has few answers in neighborhood meeting over Miller Playfield encampments

(Image: CHS)

When an encampment at Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson Park was swept in December, nearby parks saw a growth in tents as some unsheltered people looked for new places to go. One of those growing campsites is 19th Ave’s Miller Playfield.

Now with the district making plans for students to return to the adjacent Meany Middle School and the kids at nearby St. Joseph’s School already back in the classroom, neighbors met virtually Wednesday night with Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller and other city officials. The meeting organized by the Jesuit parish was set ostensibly, organizers said, to hear the city’s plans for interacting with the encampments over the next couple weeks and implore the city to prioritize removing individuals from Miller and find housing options for them.

“We invite you to join us, but want to make clear this will not be an open forum where anyone can speak,” the invite read. “We want to be very focused on getting concrete responses from the Deputy Mayor.”

“It’s an emergency, so if the city isn’t up to it, we need to know that,” one attendee said, summing up the tone of the night’s conversation.

The meeting came amid growing complaints about trash and disorder blamed on the encampments even as the COVID-19 crisis continues and limits safe options for shelter during the pandemic. It also fell only hours after Seattle Police officers and parks employees cleared about 20 people from Denny Park earlier Wednesday. Public health guidelines advise against sweeps during the COVID-19 crisis if there are no safe shelter alternatives available.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration has taken to touting the pounds of trash collected under a “Clean City” surge program set to end in April that has been focused on “removing trash to begin to set Seattle up for clear road to recovery—for our businesses, schools, neighborhoods, and residents.”

“Our challenges here at the city are not just about CDC guidance,” Sixkiller told the attendees of St. Joseph’s online session Wednesday night. “It is about access to services, it’s access to housing… We don’t have places for people to go and so as a result folks have found other ways to survive through the past year.”

 

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Sixkiller pointed to investments in permanent supportive housing that could make a dent later this year as well as 221 hotel spaces expected to open this month to show how the city is looking to get people who are homeless off the streets. He added that the city continues to work with the county to bring on additional shelter capacity.

Sixkiller said that homeless services nonprofit REACH has been at the playfield at a “pretty regular clip” to try to connect people with services and shelter. Chloe Gale, who runs REACH, noted that the relatively new JustCARE program, made up of a coalition of local organizations, was able to move some unsheltered people with very high needs from Pioneer Square and the Chinatown-International District.

“That model can be replicated,” Gale said in a Zoom chat. “We do not have that option available right now.”

CHS reported here on the funding challenges these kinds of expensive — but effective — programs face.

Sixkiller said Wednesday that Seattle remains in a tough position to move folks inside when there is currently so little shelter availability.

One community member pushed the city to set up a pilot program to “compassionately move” a few people per day into the available shelter spaces or hotel rooms. Sixkiller, who noted he was at Miller Park Wednesday, said city officials are “working through that plan” to move people into alternative housing. When? “Well, kids are coming back pretty soon, so you know, but again it’s a matter of whether we have shelter units for them to come to.”

Responding to concerns on sanitation, Sixkiller noted that, on February 18th, the city pulled out 7,500 pounds of trash from the encampment made up of just under 50 tents at the time.

Seattle Parks and Recreation superintendent Jesús Aguirre told the 50-plus community members in attendance Wednesday that on Mondays a team goes to Miller Playfield to remove debris and clear the right-of-way over sidewalks, which was a concern when CHS reported on this in late December.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Seattle Parks and Rec maintenance crews pick up trash at Miller. “If it feels like it’s not happening enough, we can look at it,” Aguirre said.

The outdoor bathrooms at the playfield had been closed due to vandalism and, at the request of Miller Community Center staff, public toilets were replaced with portable Sanican restrooms, according to Aguirre.

Sixkiller, meanwhile, expressed frustration with the Seattle City Council’s moves to cut police funding that he sees as hamstringing some of the city’s public safety response. The council is currently considering a new proposal to cut $5.4 million from the 2021 police budget to account for the department’s overspending. The council previously sliced around 20% out of SPD’s spending for 2021 and shifted the money to other departments, and social and community programs.

For many on the virtual meeting call, concerns stemmed from their worries about their neighborhood, the ability to use the sports field, and kids returning to the Meany campus. While the pandemic had posed a roadblock for youth sports, loosened restrictions have teams returning to fields and put more people into direct contact with the encampments that have formed through the winter. Some youth leagues have refused to hold practices and games at the field. Meanwhile, the preschool program that utilizes the Meany campus at Miller has continued through the pandemic and amid the encampments.

Repeatedly pressed on specifics for the future of the Miller Park encampments at 19th and Thomas, Sixkiller tried to recognize the frustrations, saying “I know it’s probably a very unsatisfying conversation because I don’t have all the answers you want and I don’t have all the solutions that you want, but what I can guarantee you is that we are trying to figure it out.”

“Trust me, I am as frustrated as you all, not only because of the challenges both bureaucratic and funding and everything else, but at the end of the day we’re talking about humans,” said Sixkiller. “We want them to be inside and on a path to breaking their cycle of homelessness.”

It’s not clear, yet, what actions the Durkan administration will take at Miller but after the clearances at Cal Anderson and Denny Park, it is clear City Hall is ready to be responsive to complaints and concerns from neighbors and businesses — even if it doesn’t have the resources to do more than sweep the camps to other corners of the city.

 

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CityOfVagrants
CityOfVagrants
7 months ago

Thank you Seattle for prioritizing criminals over hard working taxpayers.

James T.
James T.
7 months ago
Reply to  CityOfVagrants

Give it a rest already. Homeless are not criminals. It is CRIMINAL how “taxpayers” treat the poor.

AngryDad
AngryDad
7 months ago
Reply to  James T.

How exactly they are “treating” homeless? Taxpayers are supposed to be the most respected society members, because, you know, they are paying. But in Seattle many overliberal overprotectors view taxpayers as a non-deseving dirt which is at fault for anything happenning to homeless.

Jim H.
Jim H.
7 months ago
Reply to  AngryDad

What exactly is it that makes you think homeless people don’t pay taxes? They still need to buy things just like anyone else. Last I checked we have a pretty steep sales tax in this town. Also, it’s just fucking weird to suggest someone is more deserving of consideration and compassion because they pay taxes.

I’m not saying this problem is not complex. There are very valid concerns about parks being taken over by tent cities, but your means for solving by prioritizing taxpayers is the dumbest thing I’ve heard yet in this years-long conversation.

Pat
Pat
7 months ago
Reply to  Jim H.

Such a relief to read your intelligent and compassionate response. We need to house and help people who are without homes, and all the issues they are dealing with. I’m a really old woman, who has lived in Seattle for over 7 decades. I’ve been able to work and take care of myself and daughter through the years…But: I was lucky. “There but for the grace of …”

RWK
RWK
7 months ago
Reply to  Pat

I disagree that being employed and a responsible member of society is a matter of “luck.” It’s more a matter of personal responsibility, getting the education to prepare for the job you want, staying employed so you can pay your bills, and taking corrective measures if your life starts to go awry (such as excessive alcohol and/or drugs). The homeless who we see all over our city today have made choices that have resulted in their current situation. It’s simplistic to say that they have just been “unlucky.”

Luke Westerburg
Luke Westerburg
7 months ago
Reply to  Jim H.

Their ‘wages’ (i.e., cash received from panhandling) are not taxed, and they don’t pay sales tax on the items they shoplift or burgle. Meanwhile, the services they use cost taxpayer money.

It’s honestly a double-whammy – not sure where you get the impression that homeless should be thought of as taxpayers.

RWK
RWK
7 months ago

….not to mention the government checks many of them receive for their “disability,” aka drug and/or alcohol addiction. As far as I know, they pay no tax on that income.

Mike
Mike
6 months ago
Reply to  Jim H.

Homeless don’t pay taxes, they steal from businesses and commit theft from local residents. Wake up!

Russ
Russ
7 months ago

The encampment surrounds close to half of the field, and at night they light fires next to the building which seems risky. At Lowell they closed off a walkway to the public due to safety, so it’s pretty surprising to see the complete opposite here.

A.J.
A.J.
7 months ago

Huh, maybe they should have been allowed to stay in Cal Anderson, instead of forced out, with the result being that many relocated to an area with a middle school and fewer resources and dispersed into other smaller parks (since there still are not enough shelters).

Yet another boneheaded & short-sighted move by Durkan and SPD that exacerbates the problem while doing nothing to solve it. Instead of raiding the community kitchen set up in the Cal Anderson, it should have been supported and encouraged by the city, but the anti-homeless & right wingers had to be appeased and any remnant of CHOP had to be erased. They enacted the sweeps without considering the obvious results of those actions, and in doing so only made things worse for the people living in the camps, themselves, and those of us who actually live in the community, not in neighboring towns or gated mansions.

Glenn
Glenn
7 months ago
Reply to  A.J.

Miller Park was covered in tents long before Cal Anderson was cleared. I hope, despite the lack of answers offered at the recent meeting, that this blight on our neighborhood is removed very soon.

dave
dave
7 months ago
Reply to  A.J.

There were plenty of tents at Miller prior to the sweep of Cal Anderson. The number of tents just increased as folks moved up the hill after the sweep.

AngryDad
AngryDad
7 months ago
Reply to  A.J.

Right wingers in Seattle? Nuh, there is no such thing. You must be referring to somebody who still preserved a tiny bit of common sense

CHqueer
CHqueer
7 months ago
Reply to  A.J.

Huh, maybe we shouldn’t allow anarchists and fentanyl zombies to take over any parks? As was evident in the 200,000 lbs of garbage and 1600 needles removed from Cal Anderson Park the “sweeping” was long over due. I am glad the mutual aid dirtb**s and there hepatitis tent were also dislodged. Hopefully they were also fined for their unlicensed business. It is interesting to read where the term mutual aid comes from. They are larpers hiding behind a tent that are plotting a Marxist revolution while boosting their social media profile. The kardashians would be impressed.

Just Sayin’
Just Sayin’
7 months ago

It’s too bad this is a lower income area of the hill because if it was not, that park would be clean.

LivedInEurope
LivedInEurope
7 months ago
Reply to  Just Sayin’

As someone who lives across from volunteer park and sees the tents and rv’s springing up daily, I take issue with this.

This city’s response to the suffering of the homeless is catastrophic. Leaving people in tents in public parks is the worst possible option, both for the homeless and for the “rich” people who have homes in the neighborhood.

Glenn
Glenn
7 months ago
Reply to  Just Sayin’

I sure don’t consider the area around Miller Park to be lower income. The presence of million dollar plus homes overlooking the park also call your statement into question. As does the continuing presence of tents throughout Interlaken and other parks throughout Capitol Hill. And following your logic, why would Cal Anderson be cleared? Certainly the area around there is not higher income than around Miller Park.

CH Resident
CH Resident
7 months ago

I think people are forgetting that Cal Anderson Park’s encampment was also home to Antifa. They harassed me while I walked through the park on my way to work (at a hospital, during the ongoing pandemic), they threw a glass bottle at a friend of mine who rode his bike through the park and they terrorized the neighborhood, trying to intimidate the residents. The campers themselves were horrible neighbors with noise until the early morning, the garbage, the fires, the needles and the fights (and also the shootings and the murder-suicide) and the one presumably very high and memorable gentleman I saw dancing naked in the Richmark Label building parking lot. Please don’t characterize it has having been a wonderful haven that co-existed peacefully with the neighborhood. I’d have been just fine with the campers if they had bothered to be good neighbors.

Andrew Taylor
Andrew Taylor
7 months ago

Simple, naive suggestion:
1) try and replicate the self-governing Tent City arrangement (probably with professional help)
2) Nobody wants to be either outdoors or very close to others: let the campers set up tents (well separated) in one of the several enormous empty aircraft hangers at Magnuson Park. Provide toilets, water, dumpster service, and heating and cooking facilities.
3) Insist that the campers at Miller at least _try_ living there

Do better
Do better
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Taylor

Those are good suggestions. There is no doubt that the city administration is overwhelmed in general, but in regard to tents and the unhoused, it has had a year since the start of the pandemic to try and come up with solutions and little progress has been made. It’s not good enough to say we can’t move people because we don’t have shelter. This tragedy is unmanaged because the old method of relying on non-profits with differing approaches and agendas is futile. This needs a department solely dedicated to this crisis. Rapid rehousing vouchers will not work. The suggestion of housing at Magnusson is good and requisitioning some of the golf courses as has been proposed should also be considered.

A social history of those living outside or in vehicles also needs to be compiled. We have to understand where people are coming from and why they are here. If we don’t have the perspective of personal narratives to guide future solutions, the devolved situation of fighting over what works will continue and people will face another bleak Seattle winter in tents.

LivedInEurope
LivedInEurope
7 months ago
Reply to  Do better

Agree wholeheartedly with your points.

The city needs to face the fact that the hodgepodge of nonprofits might be well meaning, but what we need are more rehab and mental health facilities alongside housing solutions.

And, as much as I hate to say it, we need to actually criminalize the heroin and meth that many are turning to as a form of self-medication. Not so much to arrest the users, but to get the dealers off the streets. They’re just preying on people.

RWK
RWK
7 months ago

It’s appropriate to focus on the larger camps like Miller, but what about the small, individual camps that are all over the neighborhood? There are two of these in the 400 block of Broadway alone….one at the NE corner with Harrison, and another in front of the QFC, which is partially blocking the sidewalk. They give a very dystopian feel to the street. Is any “outreach” being directed to such camps?

I think that these campers should be given a choice: Either move to a shelter or a hotel (with vouchers), or your camp will be gone.

Mark Hodges
Mark Hodges
7 months ago

What blather. There’s no free lunch and the demand for below market rate housing is my definition infinite!

I’d rather live on the beach in santa barbara, but me pitching a tent there doesn’t mean that city has to give me a free house.

We need to get real about this nonsense.

ConfusedLib
ConfusedLib
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Hodges

It’s legal to pitch a tent down there apparently. Have you seen those beaches recently?

Andrew Taylor
Andrew Taylor
7 months ago

Found this from another Councilmember. Should we get our Councilmember to convene a meeting about the issues at Miller Playfield?
“As a member of the Legislative branch in our City government, this is one of the powers afforded to my office – to convene meetings between constituents and City departments. This is in addition to our power to legislate, pass a budget, and advocate on behalf of constituents to City departments. It is something that I am happy to organize with any neighborhoods that want to have a more open discussion with the City.
Warmly, 
Councilmember Tammy J. Morales 
District 2 | Seattle City Council”

Comrade Sawant
Comrade Sawant
7 months ago

The last two times I went to 15th there were multiple disturbances caused by drug addict street people. I used to hang out up there every day. It used to be a nice street to hang out on, no more. I avoid going anywhere on all of Capitol Hill now.

Calvin Jefferson
Calvin Jefferson
7 months ago

People that are living in these tent encampments should focus on keeping the camps clean then maybe people would have a different view of the camps.

Benjamin7
Benjamin7
7 months ago

At the risk of offending any of the atheists in this thread, I humbly offer this advice:

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” — 1 John 3:17