Unknown persons have placed fake city sweep notices on tents in an attempt to scare people into leaving.
People who use the tactic create notices that look like those city officials use to tell people that their encampment or structure will be swept. The perpetrators mimic legitimate notices and use city language and policies. The notices look similar and tell people living in tents that the area will be swept 72 hours after posting — the same time frame that the city gives for notice.
The city is aware and has told people living in the area that the notices are not official, wrote Will Lemke, spokesperson for the city, in an email.
“We have not been able to determine who put these up but we continue to do outreach in both trying to connect people to services and to let them know where things actually stand,” Lemke wrote.
This is the first time that such tactics have been reported to the city, he wrote.
Approximately 6,320 people slept outside in King County on a cold, rainy night in January, according to the most recent point-in-time count. It marks the first time that more homeless people are sleeping outside than are in shelters or transitional housing.
That may be contributing to the increasing visibility of homeless encampments, which are popping up on sidewalks throughout the city.
Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett has seen all of this before.
Kirlin-Hackett is the head of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness and one of three members of the Scofflaw Mitigation Team, a volunteer group that helps people living in their cars navigate the complicated systems that otherwise would saddle them with tickets, court appearances and potentially the loss of their home and possessions.
Fake notices have been tried before, notably when people in Ballard began posting fake signs prohibiting parking between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. as a way to scare off vehicle residents trying to park overnight.
It’s all about controlling space, Kirlin-Hackett said.
“You can’t be there, you can’t be there, you can’t be there,” he said. “We’re not allowing space for people’s survival.”
Kirlin-Hackett described the tactics as “juvenile,” acknowledging that people are lashing out against a reality that they don’t understand.
“They don’t trust anyone to help them, and it’s a cry for help,” Kirlin-Hackett said. “It’s a bad cry, a terrible way of doing things, but some folks have not grown up to learn that words can change things.”
As Kirlin-Hackett suggests, space is a critical issue, especially when it comes to homelessness.
At a homeless encampment cleanup on June 15 off Rainier Avenue South, there were roughly 20 shelter spaces that outreach workers could offer the residents of the encampment. Several of those were at First Presbyterian, an enhanced shelter that opened last year. Those spaces are in high demand, according to city officials.
There were none left, at least for men, on June 20 when a small encampment at Second Avenue South and South Main Street was swept. Instead, people living there were offered a space at a place called the “Zombie” shelter, which offers mat-on-the-floor style accommodations.
Every analysis concludes that, despite the rhetoric offered by people who believe that Seattle is wasting money on homeless issues, there simply isn’t enough space to offer people even in an emergency scenario.
Attempts to expand that capacity have been met with opposition to increased funding.
On the campaign trail, Mayor Jenny Durkan spoke of opening shelters in community centers in every council district, spreading the responsibility across all of Seattle. The City Council recently approved a measure to increase bridge housing and shelter capacity by 25 percent to serve 500 more people every night.
In the press release, the mayor’s office noted that there are 2,032 shelter beds open and that 93 percent of those beds are full every night. That includes hundreds of spaces held by the Seattle Housing And Resource Effort (SHARE) that the city and county have made moves to defund, most recently through the Human Services Department’s rebidding of contracts with service providers to care for homeless people.
The City Council approved $1 million in bridge funding in February to maintain those spaces and hygiene centers.
Advocates for people experiencing homelessness often ask, “Move along to where?” when they talk about sweeps. Despite the crisis and perhaps because of certain media outlets’ coverage of it, it appears that some people have decided that the answer is “anywhere but here.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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