SEATTLE — Seattle crews are preparing for several more homeless camp sweeps this week. But how does the city measure success when cleaned-out encampments are repopulated in a matter of days?
The Seattle Police Department said it has approximately 8 officers working as part of a Navigation Team focused on working with other agencies to get some homeless people into housing. But SPD admits it isn’t a solution that always brings immediate results.
“We get it,” said SPD Sgt. Eric Zerr. “Moving them around or some of them not being able to go together someplace actually hurts them.”
Zerr said he has been with SPD for decades and adds the city’s approach to a growing homeless population is different from years past.
“We’re out just talking to people, figure out where they’re at and what we might be able to do for them,” he said.
Zerr said his officers and other city and non-profit agencies are making a dent in finding safe places for homeless people in encampments across the city.
Earlier in March, crews closed a homeless camp called The Field along Airport Way. Zerr said many people living there accepted offers for services.
“There we almost had a 50% referral rate,” said Zerr. “That was astonishing.”
Earlier this month city crews also removed trash and several homeless campers along Interstate 5 in the University District and Ravenna neighborhood.
But weeks later, new camps had already taken root in the same location
It’s the cycle of sweeping and moving a vulnerable population that has critics of the city’s tactics crying foul.
“It seems to be administratively regulated from the top down and we don’t usually find that very helpful,” said Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness Director Bill Kirlin-Hackett.
Hackett worries city leaders are using outdated strategies that repeatedly fail the homeless
“No matter how compassionate they try to make them, they’re still using a model that’s not good for the long term,” he said.
Part of the solution could be Seattle’s proposed Navigation Center in the International District.
It’s a low-barrier shelter that could house nearly 80 people dealing with mental health, addiction, or other issues.
But exactly when it opens is still up in the air. Plus, if it was ready tomorrow Zerr said some homeless people aren’t ready to accept help when it’s offered.
“Maybe it’s not that time, maybe it’s 4 times from now,” said Zerr. “But then they’re actually open to what’s going on but it’s on their time.”
People living in the unsanctioned tent encampment underneath Edgar Martinez Drive South and 4th Avenue South are preparing to pack their belongings before city crews will sweep the area early Tuesday morning.
Another encampment along South Spokane Street is expected to be swept Wednesday morning, according to Zerr. Last week a woman told Q13 News she was attacked while riding her bicycle near the camp.