SEATTLE – The sweep began early Tuesday morning at an unauthorized tent city homeless camp near Seattle’s International District neighborhood.
City Navigation Center crews spent weeks warning that time was running out for about 100 homeless people living in the green belt along Interstate 90 and Dearborn and Rainier avenues.
“That’s where I live,” camp resident Eric Jordan said. “I’m not homeless, I live up there.”
Jordan was one of dozens of people being evicted from the illegal camp.
“I guess if I don’t make six figures I’m not allowed here in Seattle, except for right here,” Jordan added.
Out of the 93 people counted in the camp at the beginning of May, the city said 13 agreed to move into several of the city’s sanctioned campsites.
But homeless advocates said sometimes homeless people don’t accept services or shelter during sweeps, and those suffering from mental health or addiction issues often have no other safe place to go. Non-government organizations claim to move hundreds of people off the streets but continue struggling with a smaller number of people who repeatedly refuse services.
“We just want to get them stabilized,” said Terry Pallas, with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. “A lot of times they’re in survival mode.”
Pallas’ organization is one of several that provide services to Seattle and King County’s homeless populations. In the past year UGM said it moved approximately 250 people off the streets into shelters or housing.
“Over 50% is our goal and with each sweep and encampment,” he said. “If we can just keep breaking off pieces, we’re going to get more people off the street.”
“The families that we serve tend to be single moms with kids living in cars, looking for a way to keep their kid in the school they’re in,” said Tanner Phillips, with Neighborhood House, a century-old social service agency.
Phillips said Neighborhood House placed more than 100 homeless families into market rate rental units in the past year, and typically those families succeed staying off the streets.
“Six months, 12-months down the line, over 80% of those families are still paying rent and still stable and able to think about the next phase in their life,” he said.
But not everyone living in camps want to live in a shelter and follow rules, and green space is being fenced off in areas where camps used to exist, space is running out for any holdouts.
City Council member Kshama Sawant’s office said Tuesday’s sweep was counter-productive, even cruel to a vulnerable population.
“They don’t have anywhere to go, where are they supposed to go?” asked Sawant’s legislative assistant James Kahn. “They set up a new place and the cycle starts all over.”
Once the unsanctioned homeless camp has been cleared, crews plan to fence off the area to discourage re-population.
In June, Sound Transit plans to use the area to begin preps for light rail construction to the East Side.