Keep Seattle parks free of tents after camps are removed

Seattle is a compassionate city ready to invest in solutions that help people living outside. Spending on homeless people and social services in the city’s 2021 budget exceeded $ 218 million.

In return, the town hall is expected to promise residents that once outreach workers connect with people living in the parks and those public areas clear of tents, the new settlements will not take root.

The hamster wheel effect of continued camping in the parks – still illegal in the city – reinforces cynicism that this problem can never be solved and that no public investment will be enough to restore the city’s exquisite amenities for the sake of the city. all.

Seattle parks and recreation officials quietly instituted such a “clear and hold” practice. While there were a few notable exceptions, the agency is to be commended for pursuing the right strategy.

Last month, Parks crews finally cleared the last trash from City Hall grounds, and around $ 15 million in public funds helped the roughly 70 people living in tents move to better arrangements. But King County Superior Court judges who had dealt with related disruptions at the nearby courthouse had a crucial question.

“Once opened, what will prevent the scenario from reverting to the status quo, because it’s an easy place to pitch tents and for people to take shelter?” the court’s chief criminal justice, Sean O’Donnell, asked the Metropolitan King County Council.

Workers at the King County Courthouse, just north of City Hall Park, were so concerned about public safety surrounding the encampment that they staged a protest and demanded greater protection from assault and other threatening behavior. Before the park was cleaned up, the judges had called for its immediate closure.

Responding to Judge O’Donnell’s question, Parks spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said: “As with previous camp withdrawals, all new camping is not permitted and tents are being withdrawn.”

The city has made more than 30 camp cuts with the policy, she said. For example, Miller Playfield, Cal Anderson, Williams Place, and Denny Park returned to being fully used as parks.

Once outreach workers make significant offers for shelter and remove an encampment, park staff quickly identify any new tents that appear. Within a day or two, staff let people know they couldn’t camp in the park, and people largely comply, Schulkin said.

There have been at least two exceptions to this policy: University Playground and Ballard Commons Park. In these places, the camps have returned after intensive awareness raising efforts.

The Ballard Commons Park encampment was removed in 2020 and outreach workers are currently working on a new plan, Schulkin said. At the university playground, no camping signs were posted on August 30 and the remaining personal effects were due to be removed on Wednesday.

These setbacks underscore the need for effective enforcement of camping protection rules in parks and green spaces after outreach workers help homeless people find more stable arrangements.

Park by park, local authorities should align resources to bring people in and make Seattle’s open spaces for public use.

Equally important, it means ensuring that once an investment in awareness and housing has been made, there is no turning back to an unacceptable status quo.


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