Members of the Meany Middle School PTSA are calling on Mayor Jenny Durkan, Seattle Parks, and City of Seattle officials to give a group trying to help relocate campers more time and hold off on any planned sweep of homeless encampments at the Miller Park playfield and campus where the school is located. The school is slated to begin welcoming more students back for in-person instruction Monday, April 19th.
The mayor’s office says the Homeless Organizing Community Seattle group and PTSA are misinformed.
“As you are probably aware, an encampment of neighbors experiencing homelessness has grown on Miller Playfield (near Meany) over the past months,” the message from the PTSA to families at the Capitol Hill public middle school begins:
At this time, it appears that the Seattle Parks and Recreation department is scheduling a sweep of those encamped there on April 16th. On Friday, we learned that a shelter has become available for Miller residents and that the majority of residents are interested in relocating. However, we have also been advised that it will not be possible to complete the housing application process until shortly after the scheduled April 16th sweep. Please join Meany PTSA in advocating for a brief delay before the sweep takes place in order to allow Homeless Organizing Community Seattle (HOCS) to assist in the transition.
“An early sweep will force residents to move to other outdoor spaces, making it difficult or impossible to locate and provide them with the assistance they require,” the PTSA message reads.
Kamaria Hightower, a spokesperson for Mayor Durkan’s office, tells CHS the “statements are inaccurate.”
“The city has provided offers of shelter to all individuals residing in the Miller encampment and is currently working with city-contracted outreach providers and the city’s HOPE team to support people in their transition indoors,” Hightower writes, adding that as far as she was aware, “HOCS nor the PTSA have not been in frequent contacts with any city officials regarding the encampment.”
CHS is not aware of any clearance notices posted at the site by Seattle Parks.
HOCS, meanwhile, has not responded to CHS’s inquiry about the situation and the reported relocation effort.
UPDATE 10:40 AM: Area resident Rachel Ravitch who has been working with HOCS on the situation at Miller countered the mayor’s office and provided information showing the relocation issue is a matter of timing.
According to HOCS, the REACH well-being program has been “visiting the park regularly, almost weekly, but has not been able to place very many people into housing, only one person that we are aware of was offered housing over the course of the past year and this is because they already had a case manager through REACH that was working on getting them in to housing previously.”
Progress began on April 7th when HOCS says the city’s Homelessness Outreach and Provider Ecosystem team was finally able to begin offer the Miller campers housing as part of the Executive Inn program, the city’s new rent voucher program at the downtown Seattle hotel.
But Ravitch says that the Low Income Housing Institute-run program at the Executive Inn is limited to only around four to five intakes per day. Even if every camper at Miller qualified for the program, outreach workers won’t be able to clear the camps before the planned re-start of in-person school at Meany.
“Our big question to council and The Mayor’s Office – Is this a realistic timeframe? It will be harder for all of these service providers to locate these individuals after a sweep has occurred and they are devoting a great deal of resources to make access to the Executive Inn happen for Miller Park residents,” Ravitch writes in a message to the Durkan office and officials involved in the programs. “It is giving the residents hope for a brighter future – if the sweep happens before they get in to the Executive Inn, they will be completely devastated. The trauma of being unhoused amplifies all other trauma experienced – these individuals are dealing with the daily rejection of not having their share of participation in a vibrant life. The pandemic has amplified this trauma significantly.”
You can learn more about HOCS and how to help here.
The situation at Miller has settled in over months as the city transitions from COVID-19 related restrictions and policies. In January, three weeks after police led a city sweep of encampments and activists from Cal Anderson, CHS reported on how encampments grew in other Capitol Hill parks including Miller.
CHS reported on concerns about the camps and tents in a March neighborhood virtual meeting set up by the nearby St. Joseph parish that included members of 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.”
Mayoral candidate Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club human services agency, has called on the city to take emergency action to avoid a sweep and offer “emergency rehousing” to those camping at Miller 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 and others have also blasted 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.”
But in a response sent to CHS, Durkan’s office said it was working to offer assistance and shelter to Miller campers but would not rule out a sweep.
“Often after weeks – sometimes months – of outreach and services offered, individuals may still decline to move,” the mayor’s office statement read. “When that is unsuccessful, the City must still address the broader public health and safety concerns, including making sure children can get to and from school, and believe all City Councilmembers, candidates for Mayor and the School Board should support this approach.”
The Meany PTSA is now calling for a different approach.
“As parents and caregivers ourselves, we understand the concerns families may have about ensuring their children’s safety as they travel to and from school. Our discussions with representatives from Seattle Schools, the School Board, the City of Seattle, and multiple organizations providing support to Miller residents have led us to the understanding that the current situation presents a low level of risk to students passing the encampment,” they write. “As such, we believe that a delay in dismantling the encampment so that residents can be safely rehoused would be humane, ethical, and appropriate.”
What is needed, they say, is “a sustainable plan to address encampments on school grounds and adjacent properties is needed and we will be pursuing policy conversations in the future.”
Meanwhile, the Meany PTSA is also calling for donations of cash and “rolling suitcases or plastic storage bins to hold residents’ possessions during the move” to the HOCS group.
Meany and the city’s public middle and high schools will resume some in-person instruction beginning next Monday after months of video learning under COVID-19 restrictions.
UPDATE 4/14/21 9:30 AM: The city is posting notice that Miller will soon be cleared. The mayor’s office has provided a long statement to update the situation and a spokesperson says, according to the city’s contracted outreach service providers, “all residents of Miller Park have been offered shelter.”
According to the city, since March 26, the HOPE Team has made at least 24 referrals to shelter.
“Students will be returning to Meany Middle School on April 19, and the City is committed to providing students access to school that is safe and accessible,” the statement reads.
The City has shelter, with wraparound services like case management, available for every person who has been living onsite, long-term. The goal is for all individuals currently residing in the Miller Park encampment to accept shelter or to voluntarily move prior to students returning to school. Today, the City will post a notice that any remaining belongings will be removed as there are many abandoned items and tents. Seattle Parks and Recreation staff will store personal items in accordance with City policy. People can retrieve their items by calling 206-459-9949.
The city has promised another update on outreach efforts by Wednesday night. “No other updates will be available before that time, as crew are on the ground prioritizing working to transition a vulnerable population into safer shelter alternatives,” the city says.
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