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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Re: Homeless Encampments

posted by on January 16 at 15:53 PM

Erica’s post on Monday—about the City’s upcoming meetings on homeless encampments—reminded me that I’d actually been to a few over the summer, and had some photos lying around on my hard drive.

Last July, Community Police Team Sergeant Paul Gracy took me to a camp on the east side of Queen Anne, tucked back in the woods above Highway 99.


It was a long, slippery, difficult trudge up a muddy hillside. There were piles of garbage, bottles, plastic sheets and other unidentifiable items along a steep “trail,” which eventually lead to a clearing. Sort of.


Gracy said this was one of the larger encampments, and had been cleared out by city teams before. No one was home but there were sleeping bags laying around, so the space was clearly “in use.”


Indeed, it also appeared that whoever lived there was also using the space as a makeshift art studio.



When the city comes in to these camps, they toss everything. Art, sleeping bags, clothes. There is obviously an argument to be made that these camps pose a health hazard. There were a half-dozen full buckets of urine strewn around the camp, and there were knee-high piles of garbage in some spots. There was also pile of burned Barbie dolls.


Gracy told me that he offers services to people he encounters when out walking the woods, but is often rebuffed. He also said SPD isn’t equipped to act as both a law enforcement agency and social services. Still, he was warm, cordial and friendly to the few folks we encountered at another park on the other side of Queen Anne.

Obviously, there isn’t going to be some easy catch-all to solve Seattle’s homeless problem. However, banning homeless people from city parks is just going to move the problem around. These people are still going to need somewhere to go.

RSS icon Comments


There's one on a cliff above I-5 as one comes into Seattle from Sea-Tac - the blue tarpaulins visible now because of the leafless trees.

It's a sad, "Welcome to Seattle" sign-o'-the-times.

Posted by Bauhaus | January 16, 2008 4:07 PM

There are empty beds every night in Seattle shelters. Advocates arguing that one should be allowed to live like this while that pesky fact exists make them worse than the city kicking them out.

Posted by TheTruthHurths | January 16, 2008 4:09 PM

Yeah, like you have a God-given right to be smug because you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. Well fuck yov. Brown '75 here, and you have no excuse.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | January 16, 2008 4:13 PM

Yes, they do need a place to go. Can that place not be a public area that we all pay to keep clean? I think there are some wide-open spaces in the midwest if they like living out-of-doors. Or if they feel their homes simply MUST be taxpayer-funded, there's always jail.

Posted by mattymatt | January 16, 2008 4:26 PM

Why do these pictures remind me of art gallery exhibits ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 16, 2008 4:32 PM

The Ninth Circuit has held that it is unconstitutional for a city to make it criminal for people to live on the streets, unless the city also provides (or sets aside) some sort of place for the homeless to live, so that it is possible for them to live without being arrested. Down here in San Diego the city has identified specific areas where the homeless can sleep overnight. IIRC, the city doesn't permit permanent camps. We also have shelters and the like but not everyone can use them, so having some sort of spot where they can bed down in the open will be necessary.

Posted by Sachi Wilson | January 16, 2008 5:00 PM

Will @5, I was thinking the same thing; that the pics reminded me of our shared studio space in art school

Posted by art school confidant | January 16, 2008 5:04 PM

This make the point about law enforcement that is important. The police are trained to be police but not trained as much as they should be to do with social issues like this. Social workers spend years in schools to deal with the homeless and people with mental problems. The police should know how to be both or have a social worker with them. They are not criminals they are homeless and many have mental problems.

Posted by -B- | January 16, 2008 5:11 PM


There are a handful of empty "beds" (mats) each night. There are many, many more w/o shelter each nite. See last year's one night count:

More than 2,000 in shelter and another 2,000 without.

A few beds may go empty because of snafus (i.e. someone asks for a referral to a shelter that has an opening, but accidently gets sent to a shelter whose beds were just recently fully assigned)

Other people may be turned away because the "beds" available can not be filled by the person turned away. For instance - those cases when a woman needs a bed and there are only men's beds available.

Posted by LH | January 16, 2008 5:19 PM

Work farms... send them all to work farms.

Give them food, shelter and something productive to do in exchange for it... (sorting recyclables out of the city's garbage?)

And put those work farms where farms belong… way, way outside of the city limits and outlying residential areas.

Oh, and give the State the legal power to institutionalize them without their consent so they can be kept on the work farm until they are ready to be responsible for themselves and contribute something to society.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | January 16, 2008 6:01 PM

Remember @10, homeless people can vote in our Feb 9th caucus ... after all, many of them are our vets that the Red Bushies claim they love.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 16, 2008 6:09 PM

@10 That is a great idea...

Finally a plan that has potential.

Posted by Reality Check | January 16, 2008 6:53 PM

Get Graves on that art - stat!!!

Posted by Wowza | January 16, 2008 7:04 PM

Why aren't the cops equipped to be both law enforcement and social services?

I'd rather pay taxes for that then stupid masturbatory spaceships to fucking Mars or stealth bombers or godawful wars around the world.

Posted by elenchos | January 16, 2008 7:19 PM

Someone needs to talk to the homeless about the importance of 'giving a hoot'.

Posted by Giffy | January 16, 2008 7:45 PM

Why the fuck are they burning Barbie Dolls? That's just sick.

Kill them all.

Posted by Mr. Poe | January 16, 2008 8:41 PM

i think we should build them free permanent housing. after we build them free transitional housing. and then do the same for everyone in america who'd like to live in seattle for free.

Posted by maxsolomon@home | January 16, 2008 9:03 PM

i would rather live in the woods than in a shelter.

Posted by pretentious | January 16, 2008 9:41 PM

I'm dumping all my barbies out on Elliott Ave. tomorrow. Now I know they'll find good homes.

Posted by M | January 16, 2008 9:56 PM

There's a tiny cross-section of people in social services whose understanding of homelessness comes close to addressing the reality. The rest of you are pretty much guessing. Which makes these little town hall internet conversations about what does or doesn't need to happen really irritating to watch.

Posted by Judah | January 16, 2008 11:32 PM

I don't know about homeless shelters in Seattle but I can tell you why many homeless people avoid shelters in Toronto. Maybe some of these reasons apply elsewhere.

1) What little stuff you still have might get stolen.

2) The homeless, being homeless, are not notorious for practicing good hygene. Fleas, TB, Lice and Hepatitis are all ripe for the catching.

3) It is overcrowded, noisy, and you really don't get much sleep.

Posted by Toby | January 17, 2008 8:30 AM

This seems like a typically sinister Tom Carr/Greg Nickels plot to drive homeless folks off of public property onto private property so they can start arresting them.

I hope I'm wrong...

Posted by Mr. X | January 17, 2008 9:36 AM

In my mind, there are homeless people and then there are "homeless" middle class "punks" begging for change on Broadway or the U-district who've obviously chosen this lifestyle. The burnt Barbie Dolls and art work makes me wonder if this is the case of the later.

Posted by PJ | January 17, 2008 9:40 AM

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