With reporting and photographs by Alex Garland
With help from community and neighbors, plus a contingent of city workers and police, a final group of campers moved off of the grounds of the Miller Park playfield and community center as a Friday morning deadline for a sweep and clearance came and went.
Some people who left Friday had been living at Miller since the height of pandemic but Monday’s planned resumption of in-person classes at the adjacent Meany Middle School created a public safety and health situation that city officials said could not be allowed.
One person living at Miller said he had been camping there for seven months but had only been contacted by outreach workers for shelter two weeks ago.
CHS reported on concerns about the camps and tents in a March neighborhood meeting that included members of Durkan’s top brass including Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller. The situation at Miller formed over months as the city transitioned from COVID-19 related restrictions and policies.
At Miller, there were calls from the school PTSA and homelessness advocates to hold off on any sweep to provide time for those living at the playfield to find housing and services from city outreach efforts. By Friday’s deadline, the city says there were six people who were still camping at the site. CHS witnessed at least five people being moved as the city cleanup commenced.
“It’s move day. We thought maybe folks need help moving some stuff,” Miller neighbor Doug Hobkirk told CHS about his decision to be at the field Friday morning. There were problems, but as camps go, things settled down pretty good here. It’s a whack a mole thing. There were people here who were moved from Cal Anderson.”
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office says updates from the city’s Homelessness Outreach and Provider Ecosystem (HOPE) Team outreach efforts show “30 individuals” who as of Wednesday had been “referred to shelter from Miller Park since March 26.”
“City contracted providers have offered enhanced shelter, tiny house village, and temporary hotel-based shelter to individuals,” a mayor’s office representative said. “So far, the Executive Hotel Pacific has been the only shelter resource people have accepted, passing on the other available shelter options like enhanced shelter and villages.”
The city says its shelter options “provide wraparound services to help end a person’s experience with homelessness, such as case management, mental and behavioral health services, and housing navigation support services.”
According to a representative for the city, the HOPE Team believed it would be able to move any remaining Miller campers into shelter Friday.
The playfield and playground were closed for the day’s clean-up. The city said any remaining belongings will be removed including abandoned items and tents would be removed. “Seattle Parks and Recreation staff will store personal items in accordance with City policy,” the notice read. People can retrieve their items by calling 206-459-9949.
In all, around 25 or so activists, neighbors, and community members showed up with fresh sleeping bags, luggage, coffee, dollies, ready to help with the moves.
Meanwhile, a presence of around eight to ten Seattle Police officers were also on hand but were not needed. No arrests were reported.
UPDATE 4/19/21 10:00 AM: Here is an update from the city following Friday’s clearance:
As of Friday, April 16, there have been 41 referrals to shelter from Miller Park since March 26. 40 referrals were to the Executive Hotel Pacific with the other referral to a tiny home shelter unit today.
Over the more than two weeks of focused and extensive engagement by City contracted outreach providers at Miller Park, unhoused individuals were offered 24/7 enhanced shelter, tiny house village, and temporary hotel-based shelter options. All of these shelter options provide wraparound services to help end a person’s experience with homelessness, such as case management, mental and behavioral health services, and housing navigation support services. City contracted outreach providers also have other resources including diversion and hotel vouchers available to individuals.
This morning when City staff and City-contracted outreach workers arrived at Miller Park, there were 8 individuals experiencing homelessness at the park. 5 had been residing at Miller Playfield long-term, and 3 had arrived more recently. Offers of shelter, including rooms at the Executive Hotel Pacific, tiny homes, and enhanced shelter, were made to all individuals which six individuals accepted. Two declined offers of shelter, including the offer of hotel-based shelter, and left the park voluntarily.
There have been daily outreach efforts at Miller Playfield for weeks and the City created a by name list of individuals to track referrals into shelter. According to the HOPE Team and outreach providers, there were 34 people living unsheltered at Miller Playfield as of Friday, April 9.
Of those 34 people, 28 were referred to shelter. Preliminary data shows at least 16 of those referrals enrolled into a shelter (information on enrollments from more recent shelter referrals is being confirmed). The other six individuals left the park voluntarily over the course of the past week. Referrals to shelter were made to additional individuals that arrived at the park in recent days. Parks and Recreation staff stored 7 storage bins of remaining belongings, which may include abandoned items, and discarded any remaining debris. People can inquire about stored items by calling 206-459-9949, and the City will make arrangements to deliver belongings.
Here is a chart of the spaces available daily to the individuals at Miller Playfield:
Set-Aside Vacancies Enhanced Temporary Hotel Shelters Village Total 31-Mar 3 4 2 9 1-Apr 12 4 5 21 2-Apr 0 4 2 6 5-Apr 12 4 1 13 6-Apr 2 4 NR 6 7-Apr 2 4 1 7 8-Apr 16 4 2 22 9-Apr 16 4 NR 20 12-Apr 12 5 NR 17 13-Apr 4 5 NR 9 14-Apr 3 5 NR 8 15-Apr 14 6 NR 20 16-Apr 8 5 2 15
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