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Mayoral candidate Echohawk calls for ’emergency action’ to stave off sweep in ‘growing crisis around the homeless tent encampment at Miller Playfield’

(Image: CHS)

Concerns for the lives of the people living in the Miller Park encampments and worries about a sweep before next month’s planned return of in-classroom instruction at the campus’s Meany Middle School are driving Seattle mayor’s race candidate Colleen Echohawk to speak up now and call for the city to start emergency actions immediately.

“The main thing that is so frustrating, and the reason I’m running, is sweeps are so ineffective,” Echohawk tells CHS.

The executive director of the Chief Seattle Club human services agency says the situation at Miller underlines her campaign’s mission to make the city’s response to the homelessness crisis a core of the 2021 election — even if they don’t win, “we push efforts,” she said Tuesday morning.

In her statement, Echohawk called for “emergency rehousing of homeless people living in parks and public spaces that follows the JustCare model — transitioning people to a safe place to sleep while providing wrap-around services such as mental health and addiction treatment.”

Echohawk said those services along with the physically safe spaces are key.

“This is a humanitarian crisis, and it’s not working for anyone,” Echohawk said in the press release sent to media Tuesday. “It’s not working for the people in the tents. It’s not working for the neighbors living nearby. It’s not working for the people that want to use the playfield and it’s not working for the Meany community with school starting back up.”

CHS has an inquiry out to Durkan’s office about its efforts at Miller and the concerns about any impending sweep.


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CHS reported on concerns about the camps and tents raised earlier this month in a neighborhood virtual meeting set up by the nearby St. Joseph parish that included members of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s top brass including Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller.

“Our challenges here at the city are not just about CDC guidance,” Sixkiller told the attendees of the online session. “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.”

But Echohawk and others are blasting the Durkan administration for inaction with FEMA funding available that, Echohawk says, would allow Seattle to “immediately begin moving homeless people into unused hotel space.”

Echohawk told CHS Tuesday that she has seen the change safe housing can bring.

“I have participated in hoteling people since March,” Echohawk said. “We have seen people who, number one, once they get stabilized, they say, please, I don’t like living this way.”

(Image: CHS)

A study (PDF) from researchers at the University of Washington found that hotel shelter rooms reduced COVID-19 risk, improved sleep, hygiene and mental health for residents, and produced fewer 911 calls than congregate shelters, while increasing engagement with services.

CHS reported here on the city’s FEMA funding decision and the economic challenges faced by the effective but expensive JustCare model.

Meanwhile, Echohawk is in a major political battle as the field of candidates seeking to make a run for the Seattle mayor’s office in an incumbent-less race continues to grow. She needs to keep up with current Council President Lorena González and former Council President Bruce Harrell along with at least a dozen or so more candidates to make it through August’s top-two primary.

But the timing of her action on Miller is about the emergency. She says, with schools ordered to provide the option for in-person instruction starting April 19th, “the handwriting is on the wall” about a possible sweep — unless the city steps in and increases outreach and shelter options immediately.

“This is the time to do that case management,” Echohawk said.

In January, three weeks after police led a city sweep of encampments and activists from Cal Anderson, CHS reported on how encampments have grown in other Capitol Hill parks including Miller which has grown into the largest in the area even as the busy sports field continues to be used by neighbors and teams for practices and workouts and with the impending return to in-person class activity for Meany students.

Sixkiller said that workers from homeless services nonprofit REACH have been at the playfield at a “pretty regular clip” to try to connect people with services and shelter. Seattle Parks and Recreation superintendent Jesús Aguirre says on Mondays a team goes to Miller Playfield to remove debris and clear the right-of-way over sidewalks, and on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, maintenance crews pick up trash at Miller. The outdoor bathrooms at the playfield, meanwhile, 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.

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.

Seattle sweep actions have continued across the city. Seattle Police officers and parks employees cleared about 20 people from Denny Park earlier this month. Public health guidelines advise against sweeps during the COVID-19 crisis if there are no safe shelter alternatives available. Meanwhile, the Durkan administration has touted 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.”

Meanwhile, other candidates in 2021 races are also making cases for their campaigns in the midst of the challenges at Miller and Meany:

In December in the week before Christmas leading up to the Cal Anderson sweep, activists tried to erect barriers and gather enough people to protest the action and block police. Echohawk said her current call is not a call for protest.

“It’s a policy stand. It’s a, ‘hey, can everyone call City Council?,’ stand,” the mayoral candidate said.

But if politics and diplomacy don’t work, is she ready to join activists in trying to block the city’s actions to sweep the tents and camps?

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t do that,” Echohawk said. “That’s something I need to think about.”

Echohawk’s full statement on the situation at Miller is below:

Mayoral candidate Colleen Echohawk today called on the City of Seattle to take emergency action to respond to the growing crisis around the homeless tent encampment at Miller Playfield in Seattle’s North Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Echohawk is calling for emergency rehousing of homeless people living in parks and public spaces that follows the JustCare model — transitioning people to a safe place to sleep while providing wrap-around services such as mental health and addiction treatment.

“This is a humanitarian crisis, and it’s not working for anyone,” said Echohawk. “It’s not working for the people in the tents. It’s not working for the neighbors living nearby. It’s not working for the people that want to use the playfield and it’s not working for the Meany community with school starting back up.”

Echohawk strongly urged the City to accept President Biden’s offer of FEMA dollars to immediately begin moving homeless people into unused hotel space.

https://publicola.com/2021/03/18/every-community-should-be-using-fema-dollars-for-hotel-based-shelter-so-why-isnt-seattle/

https://southseattleemerald.com/2021/02/27/seattle-rejects-biden-administration-offer-to-pay-full-cost-of-hotel-based-shelters/

“President Biden is offering to have FEMA reimburse Seattle 100% of the cost of moving people into hotel rooms where we can get them mental health care and addiction treatment,” Echohawk said. “And with programs like JustCare and other community-led programs, we can get them the wrap-around services they need to get them on the road to recovery.”

https://crosscut.com/news/2021/02/can-king-county-keep-using-empty-hotels-fight-homelessness

JustCare has already helped successfully transition two homeless encampments in Pioneer Square and the International District to hotels near SeaTac.

“Sweeps move the problem, but they don’t solve the problem. In fact, they take us backwards because they waste precious time, energy and money and cause a lot of trauma for our homeless neighbors,” said Echohawk. “Instead of fighting over how we shift the problem from one neighborhood to another, we should SOLVE the problem by taking the FEMA money and moving people into emergency rehousing programs.”

The Miller encampments grew significantly after the City’s sweep of Cal Anderson in December of last year. https://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2020/12/after-cal-anderson-sweep-other-capitol-hill-park-encampments-grow/


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Chris
Chris
20 days ago

Well, I know who I won’t be voting for in the Mayoral race now.

You cannot have school is session with these encampments. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. The city knows this. They should give these folks notice now.

As someone who lives a block away from Miller I say this: It’s been a year. It’s time for these folks to move on.

Natalie
Natalie
20 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Did any of ya’ll read the article? She’s calling for temporary rehousing rather than performing a sweep, which is how all these people ended up moving into Miller Park. (After the sweep on Cal Anderson)

Basil
Basil
20 days ago

How many resources does SPD WASTE harassing these poor people, sweeping them every few months and throwing away what few things they even have left?

Maybe we can use that money to build some permanent housing for people, it’s high time for Seattle to invest in social housing if we want homelessness to go away for GOOD.

district13tribute
district13tribute
20 days ago
Reply to  Basil

Housing is not the problem. Untreated mental illness and addiction is the problem. Until you treat the root cause it will not matter. I support the idea that you must stabilize some of these people before you can treat them but if the city continues down the road of enabling their behavior by actively encouraging them to live outdoors why would any of them ever except services that will no doubt come with rules and expectations? Sweeps serve a purpose in that they provide negative reinforcement to living outdoors and push individuals toward services.

slider292
slider292
20 days ago
Reply to  Basil

The assumption that building more housing will fix the problem is utter dogsh*t for two reasons: 1) many existing housing projects aren’t even at capacity, due to the lack of willingness to comply with even the most rudimentary rules, and 2) the city of Seattle isn’t a closed system. The people in these campgrounds aren’t people who have lived in Seattle for 5-10 years, who lost their homes because of the tech boom. They are addicts and mentally ill individuals from San Diego, Boise, Spokane, Yakima, etc., who are streaming into this city for its generous services. My point is that spending more money on housing will not make the problem “go away for GOOD”, so long as people see Seattle as a destination. There needs to be a deterrent. Sweeps are a reasonable, legal, and non-violent deterrent.

What people like you refuse to acknowledge (or understand) is that Jeff Bezos isn’t the problem. Lack of empathy or compassion isn’t the problem. We have a national health crisis involving mental illness and addiction, and there’s no reason why Seattle taxpayers should pick up the tab.

Gizmo
Gizmo
19 days ago
Reply to  slider292

So true. I would argue that there actually IS a lack of empathy and compassion problem here though and that involves a city that allows people to wallow in their filth as a danger to themselves and the public and enables people to slowly kill themselves and ruin their lives with drugs, alcohol, and a lack of mental health services. That is the true crisis of a lack of empathy and compassion.

Mimi
Mimi
19 days ago
Reply to  Gizmo

Agreed.

slider292
slider292
19 days ago
Reply to  Gizmo

Great point!

Joey N
Joey N
19 days ago
Reply to  Gizmo

For some reason people who say that they are showing *real* compassion always seem to support proposals that will not provide mental health and substance abuse services, but that will make sure everyone slowly kills themselves in a different location. For instance, spending money on sweeps does not provide services, but it does get them out of immediate sight. This makes me skeptical that there is actually any empathy or compassion involved.

CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
20 days ago
Reply to  Basil

Sorry – but this is not a new problem, nor is it a problem that any amount of housing will solve. Seattle has spent the last 2 decades digging this hole, wherein the addicted and mentally ill have been pretty much allowed to do what they pleased with little real intervention. Seattle has systematically loosened/eliminated laws and regulations that discourage camping while also throwing a ton of money at short term enabling rather than developing the needed treatment programs/beds that might actually stand a chance at changing people’s lives for the better.

The thing that has changed the most during the pandemic is not that the homeless exist, it is that the very last vestiges of any control/social pressure have gone so that the campers have moved out of the highway verges, underpasses and wooded areas where they have recently been keeping in slightly less plain view, into the parks and neighborhoods where they are now.

Ana che
Ana che
20 days ago
Reply to  Basil

Spd doesn’t waste any resources in Capitol Hill area anymore, they only reacting on emergency calls. Camp Park next to Safeway – still there even after fire on the weekend, camp in Tashkent park alive and growing. Camp in Thomas park – still there even though there complaints of theft in surrounding areas and minot damster fire last month… nope no waste of police resources here.

Sal
Sal
20 days ago
Reply to  Ana che

And those homelessness outreach alternatives to the police are awful. I contacted them through the City of Seattle twice yesterday to report a guy camped in front of my house with some kind of hazardous electrical equipment set up and I’m still waiting for someone to show up to address the situation. I guess we have no choice but to hope he doesn’t set himself and us on fire? It’s ridiculous.

DEO
DEO
19 days ago
Reply to  Sal

They leave no option but to have members of the public try and solve it themselves. It’s broken window theory. If you allow one tent there will be more. I talk to people, let them know where they are isn’t a good spot, offer to connect them to other services. Yeah, I’ve been verbally attacked by people that are pretty unwell but at the end of the day they pack up and move. I can’t let my neighborhood go down the tubes. I’ve sunk a lot into it.

Sal
Sal
19 days ago
Reply to  DEO

That’s exactly what happened. Today the person left after scattering their belongings all over the sidewalk so that it was completely blocked. I filed a service request for removal and got an automated response stating they’d respond within ten business days. Clearly that was unacceptable, so I wound up cleaning the encampment myself. I am not equipped with the protective gear needed to handle the things I touched today, which included a sex toy and a glove smeared with feces. It was awful. I’m so upset about it.

Mimi
Mimi
19 days ago
Reply to  Basil

This is a false narrative. First of all, as the article states, there have hardly been any sweeps at all during COVID. It is not happening every few months. Miller has had a steady encampment for almost a year now. Furthermore, the city gives these “poor people” as you call them, plenty of notice before a sweep happens. They have the choice to pack up and keep their belongings. If their things are thrown away it is because they have willfully defied the notice to vacate the premises. Dealing in false narratives does nothing to help provide housing and services for these folks.

CD Rez
CD Rez
19 days ago
Reply to  Basil

Build projects? A known, collosal, indisputable failure of an idea? No thank you.

Moving On
Moving On
20 days ago

LOL. I mean, she’s right, this isn’t working for anyone.

What’s different about the JustCare model exactly? It’s voluntary? Has more services?

Let’s give it a whirl and see how it goes. I’m skeptical, but it has to be better than doing nothing for a year. Happy to see how well the carrot works without the stick, if that’s the heart of what’s being proposed here.

RWK
RWK
20 days ago

I agree with Echohawk that sweeps, by themselves, do not solve the problem. But sweeps + alternative housing DO work. City officials are always saying that “there is nowhere for homeless to go,” and they use that as an excuse to do nothing about the camps. Well, OK then, CREATE places for them to go, on an emergency basis! (such as placement in hotel rooms and/or erecting FEMA-style tents on public land somewhere away from our neighborhoods….and provide effective wrap-around services in those locations). It is unbelieveable that the City is rejecting the FEMA money to do these things to mitigate the problem.

The nonprofit agencies that supposedly try to get people into better housing are failing to do so. There needs to be a more radical approach! And that means giving homeless people a choice: Either clean up your camp and move to one of the City’s alternatives, or your camp WILL be swept.

DEO
DEO
20 days ago
Reply to  RWK

At a certain point I stop having sympathy and feel like we as law abiding tax payers are being taken advantage of by people that won’t follow the law. We just let our public spaces be taken away by a small group of people that claim them for their own? We let our stuff get stolen? Who would feel comfortable bringing their kids to a park where there are needles and human shit in the grass?

slider292
slider292
20 days ago
Reply to  RWK

There ARE options available– many of them are never at capacity. Ask around. The majority of the people camping in parks do so because they refuse to adhere to the rules associated with these housing options. FEMA-style tents will be no different. Please stop making this a supply-side argument, with regard to housing/alternatives– it simply isn’t accurate.

Joey N
Joey N
19 days ago
Reply to  slider292

No, there aren’t. I know because I know people *looking* for them. They’re not on drugs, they’re not refusing any rules, they’re just on a waiting list a year long.

DEO
DEO
20 days ago

You can’t live in a public park. You can’t shit, piss, litter needles all over the place. Cmon people let’s have some sense. We can’t let our much needed public parks become dumping grounds and centers for crime.

Come on right now
Come on right now
19 days ago

I’m voting for the candidate that promises to sweep all of the camps tomorrow (with appropriate FEMA-type emergency plan in place).

If you as a candidate say “sweeps don’t work” I don’t feel like you’re the right candidate for me at all.

We’re so far beyond what should be considered “ok” in this city that it has become laughable.

And I’m not lacking compassion or racist or anything else that typically gets thrown at similar POVs in this part of the country. I’m just a normal person who expects everyone to follow some basic rules. And I’m not into this dystopian reality that we’re living in today. Over it at this point.

Joey N
Joey N
19 days ago

That “with appropriate FEMA-type emergency plan in place” aside is doing a LOT of work there. Almost everyone in the city would be ok with that. The divide is between people who say stop the sweeps while we set up solutions now, and people who say fuck it, sweep them tomorrow.

CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
19 days ago
Reply to  Joey N

People are simply running out of the patience to continue to wait fruitlessly for these mythical solutions- because we’ve been hearing this same argument, that there’s no where to send them, for the last 10-15 years- ever since the first tents started migrating out in the jungle and appearing down by Boren and in the ID under the freeway. There’s been plenty of time to fund, develop and implement long term solutions and yet all we see is a marked increase in encampments, less and less impetus to discourage the practice and no one who wants to do more than find quick and dirty fixes that at best keep people fed and occasionally give them a night or two of shelter.

DSuzanne
DSuzanne
18 days ago
Reply to  Joey N

Almost everyone in the city would be ok with that? When this was proposed 3 years ago by Speak Out Seattle Nextdoor was full of neighbors insisting this was “putting people in concentration camps!” When it was discovered that the on site medical professionals would actually take down people’s names (how do you keep medical charts otherwise?) it was “you’re advocating making lists of undesirables!” Heck, even when Travis Berge was having meth episodes high up in trees protesters showed up to heckle and threaten police. Perhaps both Travis and his murdered girlfriend would be alive today if not for the people insisting that any structure is tyranny and living in a tent (“Home!”) dying of addiction is somehow not neglect. And there is a whole cohort of people ready and willing to protest any FEMA-type sites for services.