Photo: Dave Nakayama/Flickr
On Tuesday morning, Seattle police surrounded the Sodo homeless camp known as The Field, set up metal barricades and began evicting residents, reports The Seattle Times. Conditions at the small camp reportedly included indoor fires, garbage, food and human waste and a rat infestation. The city’s case for clearing the area was also boosted by recent charges against two men who allegedly raped and trafficked teenage girls in The Field, according to charging documents.
Last fall, when city and state staff evicted people living in a long-standing homeless encampment underneath I-5 known as The Jungle, not all of them were willing to relocate to indoor shelters. For those who wouldn’t or couldn’t get into shelters or housing, the city offered a transitional encampment at Royal Brougham Way with room for about 100 people. Residents called it “The Field.” Seattle reached an agreement with the state Department of Transportation to allow people to camp in The Field and delivered dumpsters and portable toilets to the area.
But there may be more to the story. According to The Stranger, Jon Grant, a candidate for city council and former head of the Tenants Union of Washington has been working with a group of volunteers who have been communicating with the people inside the camp. Grant disputed the city’s claims that dumpsters hadn’t been used. He said he and other volunteers have collected garbage and filled the dumpsters at the camp only to have the city not pick up that garbage.
“The city is setting up the encampment to fail and then using that as a justification to evict them,” Grant told The Stranger. “What are they accomplishing by doing this? It’s the definition of insanity.”
Now, after five months, the homeless are being forced to relocate once again. The eviction proceeded despite objections from protesters and Seattle City Council members Kshama Sawant, Mike O’Brien, Debora Juarez and Rob Johnson, who sent a letter to Mayor Ed Murray requesting the cleanup be delayed a week.
According to the Seattle Human Services Department, outreach workers from several organizations offered people spots at three local shelters, one of which filled up Tuesday morning, reports The Stranger. The city has three existing authorized encampments and is in the process of opening more. One, featuring 40 tiny houses, will open in Georgetown on March 15 and a similarly sized encampment will open off of Aurora Avenue North in early April, according to Sharon Lee, director of the Low Income Housing Institute, reports The Seattle Times.
However, even when shelter spaces are available, some people can’t or won’t follow the rules at those shelters. Others have pets, possessions, or partners they want to bring with them and can’t take to a shelter offering a mat on the floor.
Mayor Ed Murray recently announced a new 24-hour, low-barrier shelter to provide space for people who have difficulty in traditional shelter environments as an innovative approach to addressing homelessness.
The new Navigation Center, slated to open this year, will operate out of the Pearl Warren building near the intersection of 12th Avenue South and South Weller Street. It will allow pets, partners, offer laundry and hygiene facilities, and a place for people to store their belongings and meals. No substance use will be allowed onsite, but unlike other shelters in Seattle, clients will not have to be sober to be admitted.
They will have access to substance abuse and mental health services, as well as meals offered through Operation Sack Lunch, a nonprofit meal provider in the area. Unfortunately, the proposed location happens to be the current home of Operation Nightwatch, a nighttime shelter run by Compass Housing Alliance that shelters 75 people each night, reports Real Change.
If Operation Nightwatch can’t find a suitable new location, the city would lose 75 beds, around the same number the city intends to make available through the Navigation Center. The city is committed to making sure that doesn’t happen, Meg Olberding, director of external affairs for the Human Services Department told Real Change.
Officials began The Field cleanup process Tuesday morning in the rain, as residents began to seek new shelter. Residents were given clear plastic bags for their belongings, the Seattle Times reports. A box truck was available on-site to take their belongings to city storage. The cleanup is expected to take two days.