A local news station put up and took down a crowd-sourced map of homeless encampments after community members took them to task on social media for endangering the lives of people living on the streets.
KIRO 7, a member of the Cox media group, asked its followers on March 9 to send in the locations of homeless encampments in order to map their location and prevalence in Seattle. The team claimed that the city of Seattle did not have such a map, and promised to share the locations of such encampments with the city “as we said we would do.”
The project was widely criticized by people who work with people experiencing homelessness and the housed alike for putting an unnecessary and potentially dangerous spotlight on some of the most vulnerable residents of Seattle.
“If we had a society in which mapping people’s desperate attempts to survive led to them getting a place inside and the supports they need, that would be one thing,” said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness. “But since we do not, I have to assume this is about some attempt — at best misguided and at worst malicious — to focus official or vigilante attention on people outside.”
KIRO News Director Jake Milstein did not respond to a request for comment. He did issue a statement on Twitter, saying that Seattle has not “publically (sic) published data that shows the breadth of the tent issue.”
He went on to say that some people were upset with the public posting of the tent encampments, but that people who live in Seattle can “see the tents as they walk, bike, car-share, ride the bus, or drive around the city.”
“Each location is visible from public streets,” he wrote.
Unfortunately for KIRO, the problem is not that some people notice their unhoused neighbors, it’s that putting them on a map and couching it as a public service to the city is both harmful and unnecessary. The mayor’s office did not have a comment beyond denying that it upbraided kiro for the map.
Either way, KIRO eventually changed the map so that it indicated areas in which people camped outside, rather than specific locations.