City Camp-In Against City’s Camping Crackdown
posted by June 6 at 14:14 PMon
Even as shelters are turning away homeless Seattle residents with no more than a blanket, and even as people are sleeping outdoors, without shelter, in record numbers, the city of Seattle is continuing its crackdown on homeless “encampments” — semi-permanent campsites at which homeless people set up makeshift shelters. Last week, parks officials cleared four and a half tons of “debris” (including tarps and mattresses) from an encampment in a greenbelt on Queen Anne —a cleanup recounted in this Seattle Times story, which goes on at great length on the “hard,” “demanding” work being done by the noble city employees.
The sweeps are part of a larger strategy aimed at eliminating encampments entirely, which in turn is part of the city’s “ten-year plan to end homelessness” (currently nearing the halfway mark in its fourth year). Under a policy recently adopted by the city’s human services department, city workers may now ban people from all city-owned property, including but not limited to parks, for “rule violations,” including sleeping outdoors, or “camping.” The new rules also enable the city to confiscate personal property and to destroy any property deemed “hazardous”—a definition that could mean almost anything, as it “may include blankets, clothing, sleeping bags, tents, or other soft goods that may be contaminated by unknown substances.” Personal items like glasses or wallets are stored at the city’s Westbridge storage facility in West Seattle. The city provides directions to the facility on HSD’s web site—but only by car (“Follow I-5 or Highway 99 to West Seattle Bridge)… which isn’t much help to someone so poor they’re forced to sleep outside.
The controversy over the sweeps, which the Times story breezes past in five short sentences consisting of an obligatory quote from a single homeless advocate, isn’t just about the fact that there aren’t enough shelter beds to meet demand, or the fact that wealthy neighbors don’t like their greenbelts being trashed by homeless people. The raids on encampments represent a violation of homeless people’s most fundamental human rights—the right to have a place to sleep, to not be subject to unjustified search and seizure of your property, to not be told to “move along” when you have no place else to go. Interestingly, a federal judge in California ruled last month that the city of Fresno’s policy of sending city workers to raid homeless camps and confiscate people’s property violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure; the city and state just settled with the homeless plaintiffs for $2.3 million.
Real Change, the homeless newspaper, will be sponsoring an overnight camp-in at City Hall (600 4th Avenue) starting at 6:00 this Sunday evening. The camp-in will be followed in the morning by an interfaith memorial service for those who’ve died while living outdoors.