Oleg Shpungin usually avoids sleeping in tents. You are scary, he says when he hears someone approach but can’t See if they want to rob him – and he’s been robbed enough.
“A tent is a very dangerous life,” said Shpungin.
But on Monday night he was cold and weak and his friend had an open tent in the shade of T-Mobile Park in Sodo – so he spent the night there.
Sodo, a neighborhood with railroad tracks, waterfront cranes, and warehouses, used to see mostly people living in RVs, but tent camps have outgrown them in the past year, according to Erin Goodman, who heads an alliance of sodo companies.
Preliminary figures from a new study show Sodo isn’t alone: from Ballard in downtown to North Beacon Hill, Seattle has seen a steep rise in tents in its urban core.
The survey, conducted by researchers and students at Seattle Pacific University and the University of Washington, found more than 800 tents in Seattle in the spring and summer of 2019 before the pandemic. The research team later examined the most populous areas in winter 2019 and then again in summer 2020 and found that the number of tents in those areas had increased by more than 50%.
Corporate groups and disgruntled neighbors have been pushing the city for months to do something to alleviate the sight and symptoms of the growing camps. However, since shelters have shrunk due to fear of the coronavirus spreading and there is little space in hotels for people to go outdoors, there are few places to go.
Between March and November 2020, the counts in the county’s homeless database for families and individuals enrolled in shelters dropped by around 1,400.
Meanwhile, people who pitch tents deep in the city’s green belts to avoid being harassed or moved have realized that they no longer need to hide, as the city has largely stopped removing tents during the pandemic, and that is in accordance with federal public health instructions.
“We honestly only see more people who come out in public,” said Dee Powers, who has lived in a Sodo RV for three years. “I see clusters approaching the methadone clinic. I see communities banding together a little closer to food programs and hygiene centers. “
Powers turned the RV into a survival goods distribution center for homeless neighbors, and people across Seattle have come forward to help residents or clean up the vast amounts of trash that has been building up in the camps.
But many are frustrated because it looks like the city is unprepared that the number may continue to rise this summer when the state’s eviction moratorium expires and the city likely begins ticketing and towing RVs where people live Two things, proponents warn, as well as warm weather could encourage more people to pitch a tent in Seattle.
In Sodo, tents have filled alleys, sidewalks, and empty lots, according to Goodman. There is only one sanitation center there for the homeless and despite years of efforts to clean up the trash in the camps, it is still poor, Goodman said.
“The garbage is out Control, ”said Goodman. “The rats – it’s just very bad. Human waste, needles … The situation, to be honest, is pretty gross. “
The surge has caused serious frustration in the city’s mood – some with the people living outside, but most with city officials and something that feels like a lack of action.
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office has recognized that the proliferation of tented camps points to a problem with more and more people being accommodated and receiving assistance, but also blamed the removal of the navigation team, which was focused on breaking open entrenched camps, as one of the problems Reasons why the problem has worsened over the past year.
From April 2020 to the end of the year, there were only 13 warehouse moves, compared to 754 moves in the same period in 2019, according to a Durkan spokesman.
Karen Snedker, The co-author of the study is a sociologist who has been studying organized tent cities in Seattle for years and whose university has been hosting tent cities since 2012. Snedker believes that no one in the country has taken on the special task of trying to count tents.
While tent dwellers are nowhere near the majority of Seattle’s homeless – in 2020 it was only 10% of all those counted in King County – they are the most visible and, for Snedker, most worrying aspect of the homeless crisis.
“As someone who was always up to it and noticed it when it was on the verge of about 20 years ago, I definitely saw it increase with my own eyes in my own neighborhood,” said Snedker.
The researchers admit they could have counted empty tents or those that moved later and were counted twice, but they say it is more likely that it was an undercount. The students wandered around town counting tents everywhere from a parking lot on Harbor Island to a dock on Lake Washington, but they didn’t go too deep into green belts or wooded areas so as not to invade campers’ space.
The resamples found an 85% similarity in tents to the first count.
According to a spokesman for the mayor, Seattle Parks last week did its own census of tents in Seattle’s 500 or so parks and found at least 760 tents in 86 parks.
However, complaints to the city about homeless camps have dropped from 16,000 a year to 11,000 over the past four years, which could mean less visible tents, or that residents think nothing will happen if they complain.
The mayor’s office did not set a specific plan for people living in tents as the pandemic is gradually subsiding and enforcement of camping could start all over again. The city is mainly focused on adding new hotel rooms and opening new small house villages.
“Mayor Durkan shares the frustration, pain and sadness of seeing the increase in human suffering and the growth of camps,” a spokesman wrote in an email. “The scale and scope of this Seattle crisis is enormous, requiring hundreds of millions of new resources from cities, the region, the state and the federal government – the city alone cannot resolve this crisis.”
The mayor’s office says the estimated 3,700 people who live on the streets of Seattle would cost $ 174 million a year to house.
The city has turned to federal funds to fund new emergency shelters, but the Federal Emergency Management Administration doesn’t pay for expensive things like mental health treatments – and some of that federal money may not be refunded for months or even years.
Instead of focusing on these short-term solutions, the city needs permanent housing for those who live outside, according to the mayor’s office – and building 3,000 supporting homes would cost the city $ 900 million, excluding the cost of behavioral health services, according to the city’s estimates the residents.
But some in town say they need immediate help. Parks were a frequent source of friction. The city has evicted dozens of people from Cal Anderson and Denny parks in high-profile police operations involving protesters and homeless people in the past six months, and the mayor has hinted they are doing the same with the Miller Playfield adjoining the school According to outreach staff, many of the people swept out of Cal Anderson went there.
When Kyle Butler moved into four houses in Broadview Thomson Elementary School last July, he said there were a tent or two on Bitter Lake Playfield, a technical school compound. But the school is opening soon and there are now more than 40 tents, Butler said. He suspects that the inmates entered his back yard and stole his paddle boat that he found in Bitter Lake. Butler doesn’t leave his two young children outside alone; He estimates he’s called 911 more than a dozen times since the camp grew.
“I don’t want to score as unsympathetic,” Butler said. “We’re not just trying to get homeless people going. It’s the crime and drug use that we worry about. “
Tents have also made its way onto the city’s sidewalks, particularly downtown, which saw an increase of more than 100 between summer 2019 and summer 2020.
Dawn Lucas cannot get from her bus stop in Pioneer Square to her apartment on the edge of Chinatown International District because she uses a wheelchair and the sidewalk is covered with tents with the slightest slope.
These tents force Lucas – who was homeless three years ago – onto the street. She contacted the city and their representative on the city council, Tammy Morales, but the tents are still there.
“I understand why they do it – I really do,” said Lucas. “But if it’s a security risk, something has to be done.”
Morales district director Devin Silvernail said he spends 50% to 70% of his time talking specifically about tents with South Seattle residents. He was at the meeting with Lucas and walked through Sodo with Goodman and others affected.
The poll partly explains why: More tents were counted in southern Seattle, particularly the Chinatown International District, Sodo, and Georgetown than in northern Seattle or in downtown and central areas, which historically have seen more outcry from local residents gave.
“It’s pretty obvious these days, and pretty overwhelming, and I think people are understandably concerned,” said Silvernail.
Snedker is frustrated that the city does nothing of its own neighbors and sometimes even of itself.
“I’m worried,” said Snedker. “I am worried about the men, women and children who are not housed in our city. But I also worry about my roommates feeling they don’t know what to do – they feel that certain places are unsafe, or that they can’t take full advantage of city parks, or their kids don’t go anywhere on their own can in their neighborhood. “