At Denny Park, Seattle quietly tries to remove homeless encampment

At Denny Park, Seattle quietly tries to remove homeless encampment

Dozens of police and park workers came to Denny Park on Wednesday, where there were only a handful of homeless campers left after public relations workers had visited for the past few months.

Eviction of people and their belongings was mostly quieter than major parades last year at Cal Anderson Park or Little Saigon, where protesters protested the removal of camps during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some activists showed up to help the homeless helping campers and there were noisy confrontations with the police as they were told to leave.

Lawyers and city councilors have condemned these warehouse moves for years, saying they would do nothing to solve the homelessness problem that has crept onto the streets of Seattle. To remove the police from the camp’s response, the city council last year fired the navigation team, a controversial group of police and social workers who offered shelter to homeless campers before moving them on.

But it is unclear whether this distance was from what was on Monday 20 people or so Life in tents and shelters in the park is very different from what the city council tried to stop last year.

Joseph Vienneau left the tent he’d shared in the city’s oldest park for the past few weeks, in the heart of Amazon’s empty headquarters, to get a bed at the Navigation Center, a dormitory in Little Saigon.

Earlier this week, the message appeared on trees and signposts in the park that he had to have his things outside by 9 a.m.

But Vienneau reckoned that this momentum would be exactly like the one that moved it in the past.

“When the three days are over, the police always come,” said Vienneau.

On Monday, a Seattle Police Department blog post read, “This week the Seattle Police Department will be assisting city departments and vendors with contacting and correcting a warehouse in Denny Park.” It was later changed to say the Police would be “on standby” during the cleanup, and Detective Patrick Michaud, a department spokesman, said they will have officers ready to go if need be.

More than a dozen officials were in attendance early Wednesday, urging activists and aid group members to leave the park.

Aside from the police presence, the decision to evict Denny also raised questions.

After months of negotiations with council members, Mayor Jenny Durkan agreed to a structure that is developing, but concentrating more on public relations. Councilor Tammy Morales helped develop this new outreach strategy last year, which she claimed would rely on homeless nonprofits when it came to where and where people shouldn’t be removed.

“I don’t think we’ve ever suggested that there isn’t a situation where moving shouldn’t happen, but those decisions need to be made by outreach providers who work with people every day,” Morales told the Seattle Times last night Year. “When (nonprofits that the city contracts with) decide something happens and a warehouse needs to be removed, then that is a decision that should be made by them.”

Morales was unavailable for an interview on Tuesday. But Chloe Gale, who runs the REACH nonprofit homeless service that contacted the park last week, said the decision to vacate the park was an internal decision within the city.

Meanwhile, due to instructions from federal health officials, the pandemic has largely prevented the city from moving the homeless from one location to another. Councilors and advocates have said that an intervention like the one planned must reach a high bar to be justified.

Councilor Andrew Lewis, whose district the park is in, said it felt very different from some of the high profile COVID-era removals last year “because it has really been months and months of very intense publicity.” Lewis has visited the camp several times a month and he said there were more than 70 people there last summer.

“I was out there on a really big snowy day two weeks ago,” said Lewis. “I was really amazed how few people were actually there. I had probably not been there for a month at the time. “

King County Equity Now, a community group that campaigned to end camp removal, said in a statement to The Times they condemn all sweeps.

“In a society that does not allow upward social or economic mobility, our city refuses to provide the services and / or resources that are basically required for clean, safe and stable housing, adequate food and supplies, and security for all residents” , it says in the statement. “Rather than seriously trying to solve this problem, Seattle chooses to actively destroy the physical communities that our unhodged neighbors have created.”

A mayor’s spokesman wrote in an email that there have been more than 60 calls to 911 in the park since November, including 10 calls for arson, garbage fires and illegal burns. five for domestic violence, four assaults, three sexual offenses, and one report of an overdose.

Outreach workers stopped by a week ago and told Vienneau and his tentmate Seth Moreno they had to leave by Wednesday, the two said. Moreno didn’t mind; When he and a core group started camping in this location, they kept it clean, shared a portable generator, and used the nearby potty.

It almost looked like an urban campsite with fairy lights between trees and a well-tended lawn and dog park.

In 2017, the city spent $ 2 million on a renovation. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all the technicians disappeared and tents appeared and stayed.

Last year some of these core groups left – mostly Indians who were able to get hotel rooms with federal government funding. New people moved into their tents, said Moreno.

“Then someone stole the generator,” said Moreno. Then someone else went to the bathroom on the lawn and another person. A major fire damaged a number of tents on February 17, according to a spokesman for the mayor.

“Now it’s disgusting,” said Moreno.

For Moreno and Vienneau, the distance seems to be similar on Wednesday.

“If housing is not a priority, no one will be able to repair themselves,” said Moreno.

Seattle Times photographer Erika Schultz contributed to coverage for this story.