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Before the sweep: Inside Seattle’s debate over homeless encampments

SEATTLE — As the homeless crisis deepens across Western Washington, cities struggle to deal with a growing number of encampments that have taken over parks, sidewalks, and other public spaces.

At the center of the debate is a controversy around so-called “sweeps” – the act of clearing out a camp and forcing its occupants to move elsewhere.

While some see the “sweeps” as ineffective, others view it as necessary and empathetic, arguing that conditions can become so dire at the camps that moving the homeless elsewhere is the only humane solution.

For the past nine months, a team of police officers and social workers in Seattle has stepped up efforts to convince the homeless to leave camps before sweeps become necessary. The Navigation Team claims it has a roughly 33% success rate in convincing those they encounter to leave the camps and find more stable shelter indoors.