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Friday, June 6, 2008

Camp-In Against City’s Camping Crackdown

posted by on June 6 at 14:14 PM

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.

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Jesus fuck. This is ridiculous.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 6, 2008 2:28 PM

Just yesterday, several Fresno homeless people who claimed their belongings were wrongfully seized and destroyed in raids on their camps have reached a $2.3 million settlement with the city and state.

Posted by LH | June 6, 2008 2:41 PM

do homeless people have the right to camp in public parks? and if not, why not? the very concept that public parks are only available for use by people who arent homeless goes against the concept of "public" space.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 6, 2008 2:44 PM

Sweep them away. All of them. Away. People should not be camping in greenbelts or parks. Especially stinky drunks.

But don't give me any of this "end homelessness" shit, either, when you do it. You wanna end homelessness? Build enough rooms for people to live in.

And don't even say "end" because some of these maroons wanna live and sleep rough...they don't WANT a free room.

Those skinbags can haul ass outta here because I don't want them in my parks, greenbelts, freeway underpasses, or staring at me balefully as I drive onto or off the freeway, giving me the stink eye because I didn't contribute to their Keystone jones.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | June 6, 2008 2:47 PM

Thanks for covering this! I'm glad to see it on here

Posted by sean | June 6, 2008 2:48 PM

do homeless people have the right to camp in public parks? and if not, why not? the very concept that public parks are only available for use by people who arent homeless goes against the concept of "public" space.'re kidding, right?

Here's the bottom line: if you aren't contributing to the betterment of civilized society, you're working against said civilized society...and have no right to reap the benefits of it. We've tried the "compassionate" approach to homelessness - hell, it runs rampant in Seattle, where the general response seems to be throw more money and resources to make life easier for the homeless and this problem will go away - and it obviously doesn't work.

The only reasonable approach is to crack down with an iron fist; make city living so unbearable for these folks that they have no choice but to get their act together or get out of town.

I think I'll show up Sunday night and host a counter-protest. Even if it's just me, at least someone at City Hall will realize that there are folks out there who appreciate that they're trying to clean up the streets.

Posted by Seattle Crime Blogger | June 6, 2008 2:51 PM

@3 - No. Neither the housed, nor the homeless, are allowed to camp in a public park. This may come as a shock to you, but there's a bunch of other activity that's not allowed in public parks - like dealing crack, discharging a firearm, kidnapping, regicide... etc.

Posted by Lionel Hutz | June 6, 2008 2:55 PM

This is always a tough one. How do you make the encampments sanitary without bathrooms and without bathrooms and everyone shitting in the woods, disease will follow there is no way to avoid it. Human waste removal was a part of the sweep. Health issues are a concern that have to find a part in the equation and solution. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Do we create encampment areas that can provide a safe and healthy environment? And if so, where? And with the current budget environment, how do you pay for it? Of course as much as the sweep cost, perhaps a couple of porta-johns would have cost as much. Maybe all in all it would be best to just leave them where they are and turn a blind eye. I don't know.

Posted by Sad Comment | June 6, 2008 3:01 PM

I hate to say it but with homeless panhandlers constantly shoving card board signs in my face, I've become a little numb to it all.

Posted by Dead Reagan | June 6, 2008 3:07 PM

@6: You're an asshole. The majority of homeless people are mentally handicapped. You can kill them off by taking away their tents and sleeping bags and exposing them to the elements, but you can't make them go away otherwise. Most of them don't understand what the hell is going on anyway. And what do you mean compassion obviously doesn't work? Have you worked with your local homeless advocates to help provide a safe place for them off the street? The fact is that it does work for some.

And sleeping in a greenbelt that gets no foot traffic by "normal" people is hardly "reap[ing] the benefits" of a "civilized society." No one uses that space! They're kicked out merely because the city doesn't want them to exist. If the city allowed encampments on otherwise unusable city land there might a better, safer environment for all of us.

Posted by Carollani | June 6, 2008 3:10 PM

so if there are specific laws against camping in public parks, why do homeless advocates think they should be able to camp there? The problem as it is clearly shown isn't that homeless people use parks, it's that they use them in ways that the rest of public has made illegal for obvious reasons.

SCB, define "contribute to society". What does that expression mean to you? Society is sculpted by the actions of the people living in it, and people contribute to it regardless of monetary input.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 6, 2008 3:13 PM

At the almost halfway mark of their genius plan to "end" homelessness they've done a ton of work on the aesthetics of the problem (getting those "dirty bums" off the streets where people might have to actually see them) and nothing to solve the root of the problem ( a severe lack of resources). It's all very lipstick on the pig, to me.

Posted by jewritto | June 6, 2008 3:13 PM

No, Carollani, assholes are a necessary and vital part of the human body.

Seattle Crime Blog is neither necessary nor is he vital.

He would be an anal wart.

And obviously the city just needs to march full speed ahead and kill all the homeless people. That would "end" homelessness once and for all!

Posted by michael strangeways | June 6, 2008 3:14 PM

It think it would be awesome if Seattle Crime Blogger was there to show them the kind of person who supports this action. Definitely they should get a load of that blog.

Posted by elenchos | June 6, 2008 3:21 PM

You're an asshole.

Won't deny that, but only because our society considers the ability to detach ones self from sympathy and pointless sorrow "assholish" behavior. I consider it reaching a higher level of enlightenment.

And come on, Michael. You know I'm necessary...someone needs to bring a balanced approach to an issue like this, where everyone is so quick to jump on the side of knee-jerk emotion without thinking the situation throw and facing the sometimes painful truth.

Posted by Seattle Crime Blogger | June 6, 2008 3:30 PM

Ship them to Bellevue with one way tickets.

That's where most of them came from - the East Side.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 6, 2008 3:33 PM
Most of them don't understand what the hell is going on anyway.

Uh, what? All homeless mentally ill people are completely incapable of understanding anything that's going on?

Posted by keshmeshi | June 6, 2008 3:39 PM

I don't see any way to completely solve homelessness without combining carrot and stick policies. San Francisco tolerated a severe homeless problem throughout the '80s, despite spending millions on services every year. It was only when the city government started making certain activities illegal, and enforcing those laws, that the problem started to get better. Now, for the most part, it only seems to be the really hardcore homeless who are still on the street.

It would be nice for the city to make a significant increase in services before cracking down on illegal camping, however.

Posted by keshmeshi | June 6, 2008 3:43 PM

SCB reads Ayn Rand ovah and ovah to remind himself of his great calling.

Posted by tomasyalba | June 6, 2008 3:44 PM

What has this higher level of enlightenment exactly gained you? The status of being a crank?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 6, 2008 3:44 PM

@10 -- Your heart is in the right place, but you should get some facts.

The majority of homeless people are mentally handicapped.


And sleeping in a greenbelt that gets no foot traffic by "normal" people is hardly "reap[ing] the benefits" of a "civilized society." No one uses that space!


Posted by six shooter | June 6, 2008 4:00 PM

Yes, this campsite in West Seattle is exactly what we want in all the parks. Leave them be!

Posted by Mac Justice | June 6, 2008 4:01 PM

argue all day about whether it's legal or desireable to allow the more than 1900 people that sleep outside on any given night in Seattle to do so. there are NOT 1900 empty shelter beds. so what are these folks to do, given that sleeping in a park isn't "legal?"

btw - 20 to 25% of homeless people have some form of mental illness.

Posted by LH | June 6, 2008 4:06 PM

LH, why should we selectively apply laws based on living situation of those breaking them? Should homeless people be allowed to break other laws because "they have no other alternative?"

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 6, 2008 4:12 PM

@18 - they debate it here all the time (the latest was a court especially set up to deal with this like NYC has - shot down again), but "quality of life crimes" a.k.a., misdemeanors violated by the homeless, aren't enforced yet.

I'm not attaching any judgment to that, or do I pretend to know a good solution. But it is out of control here. WAY out of control.

I could talk for hours about it, but I don't have an answer, so I'll digress.

Posted by Dougsf | June 6, 2008 4:22 PM

Homeless camps are filthy and dangerous. Props to the city for cleaning them up.

It's not like it's a few people living off the land and at one with nature. These people trash public land that is cared for with money from taxes that I pay.

Why do I have to live in a city that smells like piss just because someone refuses to take their meds or has fallen off the wagon?

I don't know what the answer is, but I know it's not homeless camps in public spaces.

Posted by nolaseatac | June 6, 2008 4:24 PM

Bellevue Ave - you are answering my question with a question.

Posted by LH | June 6, 2008 4:24 PM

These issues fry my little progressive brain and drown my bleeding liberal heart. Is there room in a capitalist society for those who won't or can't participate? Charity only works for so many people -- others don't want that either. Yet their needs (sustenance, shelter, privacy) impinge on the needs of others (sanitation, aesthetics) who play by the rules. 'Tis an imponderable.

Even if there were a magic-homeless-solution-wand to solve this problem completely right now, it would only recur. The homeless are truly a by-product of this society.

Posted by Harris | June 6, 2008 4:25 PM

@23 -- From

Mental disorders fall along a continuum of severity. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 Americans — who suffer from a serious mental illness. It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 families in America.
The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.
Posted by six shooter | June 6, 2008 4:29 PM

Quick correction Erica - the correct amount cleared from the site was over 21 tons - the 4.5 tons you quoted was just the first garbage truck full.

PI has the full figure here:

Posted by Willis | June 6, 2008 4:30 PM

in this case it's about the only thing you can do when your question implies we should allow people to break the law because of perceived necessity to break the law. You were implying that when you put legal in quotes, so shut up about answering a question with a question.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 6, 2008 4:31 PM

If capitalism doesn't work for you, does that mean you're defective or capitalism is defective?

Posted by elenchos | June 6, 2008 4:32 PM

That said: Pretending Homelessness and Urban Camping are the end results of mental illness or drug abuse or a lack of shelter beds avoids the problems and shucks our responsibilities as a society.

As much as I hate to come down against the downtrodden, our current system of ignoring urban camping for years and then "cracking down on it" all of the sudden does not work.

It seems an awful lot like the city is picking on the poor and making their lives unnecessarily uncomfortable. We're clearly violating search and seizure restrictions without accomplishing some greater good.

Posted by six shooter | June 6, 2008 4:37 PM


Oh, they're not enforced? I guess I've been misled. Although I did find Newsom's suggestion to give homeless people bus tickets out of the city hilarious.

What I'd like to see are enough services to make the "but we don't have anywhere else to go" argument moot. Then crack down on illegal activity and ignore the inevitable claims that homeless people have some sort of inherent right to live on the streets.

Posted by keshmeshi | June 6, 2008 4:38 PM

elenchos, that applies to any system, political or economic. It's such a useless statement that I'm surprised it came from you.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 6, 2008 4:39 PM

Sorry for breaking SLOG.

Posted by six shooter | June 6, 2008 4:43 PM

Fuck you both.

People run around day after day beating their heads on the wall because they can't solve the mystery of why our perfect system has so many people living miserable lives. Once you accept that the system is a game that only really works for about 20% of the population and is a disaster for another 20%, the dissonance goes away and you can face up to solving the problem instead of all the hand wringing.

And click the preview button, OK? It's not that hard.

Posted by elenchos | June 6, 2008 4:51 PM

We've had similar homeless protest issues here in Portland recently, and it brings out all the same kinds of haters.

Posted by Matt Davis | June 6, 2008 5:02 PM

Is there room in a capitalist society for those who won't or can't participate?

Short answer: no. Nor should there be.

Posted by Seattle Crime Blogger | June 6, 2008 5:04 PM

Matt Davis has been doing an excellent job covering protests at Portland's city hall at the Slog's sister blog... this is obviously where they got the idea here. The homeless in Portland decided that if they were going to have their stuff stolen and be kicked out of wherever they slept, they'd sleep in front of city hall. Great stuff.

Posted by poppy | June 6, 2008 5:15 PM

keshmeshi@35 - propositions of enforcement make the news a lot here, and there's a lot of discourse - but that's about all. I walk 3 blocks to BART each morning, compared to Seattle, many people would be blown away with what I see.

It's an easy issue to publicize in SF, and there's a vocal minority that can come down hard on anyone suggesting something... er, I can't really use the word Draconian here, b/c where not talking about excessive punishment, we're talking about NORMAL punishment that affects some people, uh, excessively.

If you've visited and noticed a difference, yeah, some areas of downtown have been cleared of the high concentration of panhandlers, but the problems are the same. None have been taken off the streets (oh, I just remembered the "Care Not Cash" thing - that sorta happened, too long to explain).

Yeah, that bus ticket thing was kinda funny. I didn't see anything wrong with it - free bus ticket!

Posted by Dougsf | June 6, 2008 5:16 PM

Bellevue Ave. - I put the word legal in quotes because this seemed to be everyone's focus early in the string. I know full well that sleeping in the park is not legal. My employment has given me the opportunity to become well versed in Seattle's Parks Exclusion Ordinance.

The only reason that I pointed out that you hadn't answered my question is because I thought that maybe if you tried to think about what the answer my question was: where are 1900 people to go tonight? that you might come to my answer to yours: why it is that this particular law shouldn't be enforced?

My answer to my Question 1 - there is no answer tonight for those people...

My Answer(and many courts have ruled so)to your Question 2 - the law should not be enforced if people have no alternative because it is cruel and unusual punishment.

Posted by LH | June 6, 2008 5:42 PM

elenchos, who said it was a perfect system?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 6, 2008 5:44 PM
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.

This is so ignorant, I don't even know where to start. I've spent years of my life in camps like this, mostly between the Ballard locks and Golden Gardens, and they're disgusting dangerous places. The homeless people who build them just abandon them when the time comes. New people coming into the camp area don't want to use the abandoned gear because it's full of infectious human waste; you can get everything from lice to hepatitis off used mattresses and tarps, and if you pick up a needle stick it can be a death sentence. So the new people use the same areas, but they build new camps. Unless the city or the railroad comes through to clear the garbage out from time to time, the pile of old clothes, human shit, newspapers, blood, vomit and food waste will just grow indefinitely. And yes, clearing a camp like that is disgusting and difficult work.

But let's pretend for a second that we live in Erica's magic kingdom: suppose we let the homeless people leave their stuff in the greenbelts.

How long before the structures become more permanent? How long before someone applies for squatter's rights and the greenbelt disappears? How do we deal with waste disposal in the camps? How do we pay for it? And how do we police the camps? If we do police the camps, how are the greenbelt camps different than the high-barrier shelters that people don't use? If we don't police the camps, how long before something politically untenable happens? Failure to enforce federal drug laws can result in the suspension of federal block grants for roads, schools, and so on.

At the end of the day, the nationwide homeless problem is a result of the de-institutionalization that took place under Ronald Reagan, and nothing short of recreating the mental health infrastructure that Reagan destroyed and that Clinton was too much of a Republican to repair will address the problem in any meaningful way. The city is just attempting to deal with a problem that needs to be dealt with. Don't like their solution? Fine. What's your alternative? I imagine it's about as viable and well thought out as letting a population suffering from mental illness, substance abuse and epidemic levels of infectious disease built permanent camps in our public spaces, but I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Let's hear it.

Oh, wait, nevermind: Erica's a journalist her job is just to bitch about problems, not fix them.

Posted by Judah | June 6, 2008 6:05 PM


Seattle Crime Blogger, for one, and anybody of that that ilk. But besides them, anybody who feels conflicted about helping people who can't make this system work for themselves is suffering from the the original mythology that free markets should be working for anybody.

Posted by elenchos | June 6, 2008 6:13 PM

#45 - I have to agree with you about most of what you said, but "Reagan shut down mental the institutions and kicked people to the streets" was nothing more than an exaggerated Dem rally cry in and election cycle 30 years ago. It was barely true then, but has somehow gained legend status.

There's a good Snopes thread on it. Hate to nitpick an otherwise nice post, but the Reagan argument needs to be quashed.

Posted by Dougsf | June 6, 2008 6:37 PM

The day the City backs down from enforcing the prohibition of illegal encampments in public parks, I'm going to start pouring a foundation for a house in Kerry Park.

Posted by Lionel Hutz | June 6, 2008 7:49 PM

elenchos, neither free markets nor regulated markets are going to change the situation of homeless people without the social will to make it a priority.

People can already help the homeless through charity. The fact that it doesnt seem to be enough should be indicative of the social will or the social importance that we place on the causes and solutions to homelessness.

I think it's cute that you always try to tie things you find repugnant back to a failing of capitalism or free markets instead of a failing of people to share the importance you place on community and providing for those less fortunate than others.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 6, 2008 8:00 PM

At least I use spell-check.

Posted by six shooter | June 6, 2008 8:59 PM

Reagan? That's at least ten years late. A lot of this goes back to late 60's/early 70's, when it was decided that a new! wonderful! era of psych drugs could take care of most of our institutionalized folks, and they could be set free and go to day centers instead.

There was also a trend towards discovering rights for all types of human beings in our society at the time, in many, many ways, an important and revolutionary moment in our advancement as a society. It's not good to chain people to radiators.

And thus their rights! were discovered and they were set loose. Were the day centers built and funded appropriately? Er... that costs money... do we have to? Aw, maaa...

And the drugs then... just like the recent revolution in wonder drugs that will solve all of our psych problems... well, from what I hear, there are side effects and they're no magic bullet.
(And wasn't this all covered in a decent, lengthy article about that flaming lulu who killed that girl, a few months ago?)

Thank you, Bellevue Ave @ 49. It's really not so much about what social organization or ideology we have, it's about who we are as a society. If it was really important to us...

$1.2 billion Batman radar-evading bombers, Qty 20...

Brand new sport stadiums every goddamned time you turn around...

It would get done. It doesn't get done, so that says something about who we are. Or at least a lot of us. King Ronnie certainly was the figurehead at the front of the parade of folks who were declaring overtly, in public, that they didn't give one goddamn, and stop asking them for money for such issues.

Other gripes o' mine:

Cleaning up that shit -- literally -- is a hard and demanding job. As is being a policeman, or social worker, or ER or psych ward employee who has to deal with these folks. Sometimes I worry that some of the biggest libs on such subjects don't have much contact with the great unwashed.

Having parks with hobo encampments in them is why huge droves of Americans think us Stranger type blue state wieners are out of our minds when we preach about the wonders of the new, coming urbanism. Condescend all you want about the Big Box sprawl zone o' suburbia, some folks would rather not dodge hobos in the park. Lots of folks.

Oh yeah, and continued deindustrialization but the rich keep getting richer and real estate, etc etc.

Posted by CP | June 7, 2008 6:24 AM

Sorry, that was too long. Here's something short:

Count de Monet: It is said that the people are revolting.

King Louis XVI: You said it! They stink on ice!

Posted by CP | June 7, 2008 6:29 AM

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