City-run sweeps of homeless people’s encampments have not been put on hold, and city officials are working to recast urban camping as an issue of public health and safety.
To them, it’s a matter of trash, disease, and shady characters camping out, not of personal property and humane treatment.
That much was made clear in the first three minutes of a Dec. 3 briefing of the City Council by Human Services Department director Patricia McInturff and Parks facilities manager Cheryl Fraser.
Fraser began the 15-minute briefing by saying the “abatement” of camps on Parks-owned property is prompted by complaints about “drinking, drug use, and noise” and “the increased presence of rodents” as well as “excessive damage” from campfires. Projecting video footage of what appeared to be cast-off clothing littered about a camp, she said that cleaning up such an area “is not a job that anyone wants.”
McInturff noted the city’s efforts to forward the 10-year plan to end homelessness. “These encampments are not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem,” she said.
City officials are working up a new encampments policy — a fact revealed by Real Change earlier this fall [“Swept but Still Dirty,” Oct. 31], and McInturff assured the Council that the city will do a better job of outreach and notification. “I think we can all agree that people deserve to be notified,” she said.
As to storing the possessions of people whose things are taken, “We don’t have the room, and most of these are things you don’t want to store.”
Dan Wise of the Aloha Inn and Alison Eisinger of the Seattle/King County Coalition for the Homeless, also invited to speak at the briefing, suggested the clearances are “counterproductive, ineffectual, and in fact immoral,” in Eisinger’s words.
“Increased enforcement leads people to being further marginalized from society,” said Wise, “to being driven farther into the woods.” If people are turned away from shelters because they’re full — as advocates say happened on snowy, rainy nights Dec. 1-2 — how can the city justifiably take their only remaining source of comfort, their blankets?
It’s still an open question, as reports in both daily papers last week of a halt in the city’s sweeps were premature.
“The City’s position was not represented correctly” by a Nov. 27 article in The Seattle Times, McInturff told advocates in an email the next day. Instead, she wrote, the city “will continue to address encampment complaints and removal in the same way that we have for the last several years.”
Citizens and advocates, including Real Change, had called for a stop to the stepped-up monthly sweeps of encampments on a “Top 10” list of high-profile, frequently used areas compiled by the police, the state Department of Corrections, and other city officials. The city has apparently put this “proactive” approach on hold — but that’s well short of a blanket moratorium.
McInturff, who promised to return to the council in January with a new protocol, told the council that the city was responding to specific complaints about camping on a “case by case” basis.
“I would hope there’d be no cases,” said City Council President Nick Licata, who circulated a letter among his colleagues in November asking the Mayor’s office to impose the moratorium.