On Nov. 29, Andy and her partner gathered in the large tent that abuts their sleeping tent with a few friends, all trying to warm up. Her partner got a fire going with pallet slats, pieces of a broken Ikea futon and whatever paper happened to be lying around.
Their tent complex shares the block behind a Comcast service center with several other large tent structures and a few RVs. One of those RVs is the instantly recognizable camouflage rig owned by Pedro, featured previously in this column. While she wasn’t swept out of the encampment next to the Halcyon Mobile Home Park where Pedro lived, Andy did live there at the same time. His garden survived the sweep, she said: “I went back there and picked a bunch for him.”
Like many women, Andy became homeless after an alleged domestic violence incident. As she puts it, “I made a bad choice in men.” Since then, Andy has been in a lot of encampments in the north end, starting with Green Lake.
“Toward the end, I got a motor home given to me from a friend, and then they decided to sweep us,” she said.
She wasn’t there the day of the sweep, so her RV got towed, and she had no way to get it back. She’d heard that campers from Green Lake were getting rooms in a nearby Holiday Inn Express, but that never materialized. Those rooms, she suspects, went to campers at the now infamous Bitter Lake encampment, which was on Seattle Public Schools property. That made it a higher priority, Andy said.
“Then they swept out the Bitter Lake people because it’s next to the school. Everybody’s having a fit, [saying], ‘The poor children!’ [Looking at us as] monsters. We all have children ourselves. We’re just people down on our luck, that’s all,” Andy said.
Her own children had gone to Broadview-Thompson, she said, the school whose property the encampment was on.
After Green Lake, Andy went to what she refers to as the “toilet bowl,” the place between Home Depot and Halcyon where Pedro had his garden. The garden was clearly a later addition to the space. Andy’s time there was marked by a catastrophe that would have nipped any horticultural ambitions in the bud. It is a drainage corridor, meant to receive excess water during periods of heavy rainfall, and the area did exactly what it’s supposed to do: flood.
“We ended up in an RV that was three feet underwater and couldn’t get out. I had to climb off the roof and onto a car and onto a trailer,” she said. That’s why they didn’t end up in the sweep that eventually scattered campers from that location. She and her partner had already decided to take off for another spot behind the Lowe’s on North 125th Street and Aurora Avenue North.
Lowe’s lasted for a little bit, Andy said, “until they swept us out of there.” Too many campers were stealing from the store, she said. They were offered a spot in a tiny home village in Burien once, Andy said, but that was a nonstarter.
“All they told us was, ‘Good luck. There’s a place in Burien that’s taking people.’ But we have doctors here. This is our neighborhood. I’ve been in this neighborhood since 1987,” she said.
Now they’re behind Comcast, which made a stir on social media recently for blasting loud music into the camp at all hours.
“The music just finally stopped yesterday. It’s been going since the day before Thanksgiving. So loud that it hurt your ears. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t talk, couldn’t hear yourself think,” she said.
It was so loud, in fact, that neighbors called in a noise complaint against the camp. The cops showed up and were surprised to learn it wasn’t the campers. After that, Andy said, Comcast turned the music down a bit. Eventually, the company turned it off all together. The track selection was especially bizarre, she said, including everything from “the Star Wars soundtrack to Madame Butterfly,” with a few Disney tunes thrown in.
Andy’s current site is directly across from the front gate of a Pallet Shelter facility. Pallet manufactures tiny homes to combat homelessness. Its website does not list the location as a village or potential project, but the optics of it are still striking.
While some Pallet workers had expressed hope that the campers living on their doorstep would end up in one of the tiny homes, Andy said, she and her partner both said they hadn’t received much in the way of outreach.
“No,” she said, when asked if any city or county outreach workers had been up to talk to them in their current location.
“They’re building tiny houses across the street, [and] I’m sure we won’t get one.”
Given their history, she has reason to be skeptical. Despite being present at — or impacted by — a handful of different sweeps, she and her partner haven’t had much luck getting housed.
“They keep promising us all this stuff, housing, everything,” her partner said. “We have never gotten housing at any of the sweeps at all. Ever. Not one time.”
Tobias Coughlin-Bogue is the associate editor at Real Change.
Read more of the Dec. 7-13, 2022 issue.