Clearing Queen Anne Hill homeless encampments is big job
Seattle city workers expected to have a greenbelt on the west slope of Queen Anne Hill cleared of homeless encampments within a day. They found more stuff...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle city workers expected to have a greenbelt on the west slope of Queen Anne Hill cleared of homeless encampments within a day. They found more stuff than they expected.
So crews in white puncture-resistant coveralls, eye goggles and thick gloves are returning today to finish the job, Parks Department spokeswoman Dewey Potter said.
Within the first few hours of the city-mandated cleanup on Wednesday, crews filled a garbage truck with 4 ½ tons of debris before starting on a second truck, Potter said.
"It's very demanding work. They're picking up stuff and putting it into plastic bags, which are very heavy.
"It's sad and it's gross, and it's not fun for anyone."
Among the removed debris were old mattresses and tarps, open cans of rotting food, bottles of urine and countless used syringe needles.
City officials said some of the homeless might have made the greenbelt above Elliott Avenue West their home for many years. Estimates are that nearly three dozen people had been living in more than a dozen encampments found there in recent days.
But the cleanup was no surprise. The city announced more than two weeks ago plans to rid the area of homeless encampments in the wooded area near the Queen Anne neighborhood and close to Kinnear Park, and it set May 28 as the deadline.
Notices also were posted a week ago, Potter said.
David Takami, spokesman for the city's Human Services Department, said the city had contracted with Evergreen Treatment Services to provide outreach workers to track down the homeless in the encampments and offer them temporary shelter and help connecting with social services, such as mental-health or drug-and-alcohol treatment.
He said the city had set aside 20 shelter beds at the Compass Center in Pioneer Square for those in need of places to sleep.
Outreach workers combed the area May 16 — nearly two weeks ago — then returned a week later, then again on Wednesday morning before the start of the cleanup. By then, most of the homeless had left with some of their belongings, Takami said.
Potter said cleanup workers encountered about five people still there. Three of them took the city up on the offer of shelter beds, she said. "The other two just left."
Homeless advocates have long been critical of the city's approach to eradicating encampments, charging the city with failure to address a chronic and severe shortage of emergency shelter and services.
"Homeless sweeps are not the answer," said the Rev. David Bloom, co-chairman of the local Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness.
"There's no place for people to go, and they're just trying to survive," he said. "To wipe out these encampments when people don't have a place to go is ludicrous. It's not humane."
The Real Change Organizing Project, which has repeatedly called on the city to add shelter beds and improve services for the homeless, is planning a June 8-9 protest. Protesters will camp overnight at City Hall Plaza, in a protest similar to one there in March.
By the end of the day Wednesday, cleanup crews were on their third garbage truck of debris at the Queen Anne greenbelt.
Some of the items removed from encampments were bagged and tagged and will be stored in the Parks Department's warehouse for up to 60 days, so owners can claim them.
Potter said workers also would return to the area next week to make sure campers have not returned. Takami said there are no plans to patrol the area around the clock.
"This is not a punitive thing," he said. "It's become a trespassing situation."
Charles E. Brown: 206-464-2206 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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