On July 18, 1994, amid much opposition, the City of Seattle tore down the collection of shacks and lean-to’s along I-5 that has become known as “The Jungle.”
During the prologue to the event, despite the generation of much heat, neither the City nor homeless advocates opposed to the eviction were able to publicly acknowledge the other’s point of view, much less negotiate any sort of middle-ground.
The following three articles, which broadly represent the views of the City, Seattle’s service providing community, and those of grassroots homeless activists, can be seen as evidence of the common ground these parties share as well as the differences which continue to divide.
Seattle Committed to Helping Homeless: Removal Defended as Necessary and Sensitive
The illegal encampments on Beacon Hill posed a very serious public safety and illegal health risk both for the people living in the greenbelt and in the surrounding community. Because there was no water, no sewer, no garbage collection, and no electricity for the greenbelt, the conditions created a haven for rats. Rodent-borne diseases, tuberculosis, and hepatitis were significant health risks caused by unsanitary conditions.
Open fire pits were found at most sites. With no water in the greenbelt, firefights were barely able to control three fires at the encampments earlier this year. The danger from fire as the woods became tinder dry this summer was great.
These conditions required the city to remove unlawful dwellings in the Beacon Hill greenbelt.
The City took extraordinary measures to reach out to the people in the greenbelt. Community Service Officers, City staff, and social service providers combed the hillside for weeks preceding the clean up, urging people living there to take advantage of shelters, drug and alcohol treatment programs, and other services. In addition to this one-on-one effort, the City convened a community meeting as a direct response to a request from homeless activists, service providers, and homeless people living in the greenbelt. City staff and 20 community organizations came to the meeting – all with programs and services to offer. We arranged refreshments, translators, and transportation to and from the site. Despite all this, only two people from the Beacon Hill encampments came to the meeting; both declined services and shelter.
In 1994, the City is spending over $7 million on emergency programs; homeless shelters, transitional housing, food banks, meal programs, health services, counseling, and job training programs for homeless families and individuals. The City’s spending on programs and services for homeless people has increased by 75 percent in just five years, from under $4 million in 1989 to over $7 million in 1994.
The City is also involved in long-term solutions to homelessness. The Seattle Conservation Corps provides employment, education, and job training for homeless adults, and the City is committed to developing permanent low-income housing with support services for people who are homeless.
More than 3,100 units of permanent low-income housing have been developed or preserved since 1987, largely through leveraging of Seattle Housing Levy and other City funding with federal, state, county, and private resources. In fact, an additional 90 units of permanent low-income housing for homeless individuals will become available when the Wintonia apartments open in September.
Behind the scenes City efforts successfully lobbied the federal government to maintain McKinney Act homelessness funding for Seattle and will continue to work for the development of housing for people who are homeless at Sand Point. In addition the City continues to work closely with housing developers, providers, advocates, and homeless people to jointly develop programs and services that truly help homeless people – affordable housing, jobs, mental health and drug and alcohol services, day care, and health care.
The City responded to the clear health and safety hazards generated by the encampments. Our long-term goal is to respond to the social issues that cause homelessness, but the City cannot act without help from federal, state, and county governments. Critical is support for local initiatives, like a housing levy, from the citizens of Seattle and King County. Equally essential is the need for people who are homeless to make those choices that lead to a stable home environment, and we will continue to urge them to utilize the existing service system.
We welcome Real Change to the City and look forward to continued discussion and lasting solutions to homeless.
By Laura Paskin, Department of Housing and Human Services, and Terry Wittman, Citizens Service Bureau.
New Policy on Jungles Needed: City Response “Inappropriate and Ineffective”
On July 18, 1994, the City of Seattle, and the state of WA began the physical dismantling of a community some say has been in existence for nearly a decade. It has been an abrupt end for the “Jungle,” a series of encampments on the west side of Beacon Hill that has been home to a least 100 people, including many U.S. veterans and Latino immigrants.
Advocates and service providers have been torn over the encampment’s removal. All of us believe people ought to have more than a lean-to and an outhouse to call home. All of us understand that the City must respond to public health and safety concerns of this magnitude. However, we also know that our shelters are full and housing is not affordable. We know that shelters and housing projects can be dangerous places for vulnerable people. We know that few of us have all the resources needed to provide appropriate services to people with mental illness or to non-English speaking immigrants. We know that shelters and transitional housing facilities are seldom a place for the sense of community, ownership, and independence that the jungle has provided. The people living in the Jungle are not ignorant of the social service system. They simply have not found what they need in that system.
The one thing that advocates and service providers are sure of is that the city’s response to encampments, though improved over the last encampment removal, has been inappropriate and ineffective from both a human service perspective and a public health and safety perspective. The current policy is to take no action until a significant number of complaints are filed or a public health crisis arises. If and when this happens, the city begins crisis planning to remove the encampment. Neither the City, the encampment residents, nor the general public are served well by this approach.
City officials knew in April that the Jungle camps had passed a crisis point, yet they did not start working with social service workers until late May, less than a month before the original evacuation date of June 27. When the city did approach service providers it proved to be too little, too late. The City had few resources to offer. Shelters and transitional housing facilities had little room to offer and few residents of the encampments were interested in what services were available.
The City must create a policy that ensures encampments do not become a danger to those living in them or in neighborhoods around them. To this end, such a policy must include educating encampment residents about the public health dangers and risk prevention. A new policy must acknowledge that as long as there are people without the resources or the desire to access standard housing, the existence of such encampments is inevitable. Simply knocking encampments down only ensures they will appear elsewhere. This policy must be at its core a human service as well as a public health policy. It should include a systematic outreach program by professionals who can gain the trust of residents and effectively evaluate their needs over a long period of time. This kind of intervention will not be successful if accompanied by the threat of eviction from one’s home. There will, undoubtedly, be encampment residents who do not want anything from service providers or the city. Only a policy that allows as much self-determination as possible will encourage the needed dialogue between the City, human service providers, and encampment residents.
Finally, an effective policy will commit the City to funding services that are relevant to the particular needs of the people in these encampments, including public health education, affordable housing, mental health services, and culturally appropriate services to the large Latino population in these encampments.
Submitted by the Seattle King County Coalition for the Homeless
Seattle Turns its Back on Poor: Criminalizing Poverty is No Solution
On Sunday evening, July 17th, the night before the scheduled demolition of the Jungle campsites, I and about fifteen of my comrades camped overnight at Jose Rizal park. We were the vanguard for more protesters who would join us Monday morning.
A young Native American couple came out of the Jungle, where they live, and asked what was taking place. Astonishingly, they did not know that the very next day bulldozers would be destroying their campsite.
When we explained it to them they became very worried and frightened. Afraid that police would come in the night and arrest them, they returned to their camp to pick up some blankets and stayed with us. The fact that they were not aware of what was about to happen belies the City’s claim of thorough outreach to the Jungle residents.
The fear this couple had for the police is shared by all people who sleep out at night on Seattle’s streets. More and more often SHAG gets reports on how many police officers are abusing their authority. People have been asking for years for a citizen’s review board, but the Mayor and City council have turned deaf ears.
Let us take a look at the true reality of how Seattle has been dealing with homelessness. Their consistent solution, rather to dealing with it in a humane fashion, has been to simply make criminals out of innocent, struggling people.
We saw this when no trespassing signs were put up in the Jungle, making it a crime to sleep there. We again see it in the city ordinances making it a crime for poor weary people to sit on public sidewalks. Again we see it when police harass innocent sleepers telling them to move on or be arrested.
No wonder violent crime is running rampant in our city at night; most of the police force is focused on harrying innocent victims.
Criminalizing poverty is not a solution and if the Mayor and City Council cannot comprehend this then we the voters need to show them the exit door pronto.
The City claims that they moved in on the jungle because of sanitation reasons. I don’t believe that for one moment, and neither should you. It would be a relatively simple task to provide sani-cans and to have a centralized garbage container for the residents to use.
Jungle residents would have cooperated fully. These are not animals, as the city alludes, but thinking, caring, breathing feeling decent human beings. And I’ll put them and the rest of my homeless brothers and sisters up against all the bureaucrats and politicians in the world for honesty and integrity any day.
The simple truth is that Seattle’s leaders do not want homeless or low-income people living in their city, period. The city will of course deny this, but all the facts point to it.
Attack after attack has been levied on the 98104 district, which consists of Downtown, Pioneer Square, and the International District, and has the heaviest concentration of homeless and low-income people.
Why? Because a large-scale development project is in the works for this entire area. When completed this will bring more tourists who will of course bring more bucks. But in order for this to be successful, the poor have to go, and that is really what it is all about folks: money and greed.
When Norm Rice was first elected Mayor SHAG presented him with a membership hat which he said he would always wear with great honor and pride.
Mr. Mayor, you have turned your back on Seattle’s poor population.
NOW TURN IN YOUR HAT! ‘nuff said.
Blue Lahiff is Director of the Seattle Homeless Advocacy Group (SHAG).