Tom Douglas dinners in the park get grilled again
Chef Tom Douglas' "Salmon-Chanted Evenings"at Victor Steinbrueck Park are again irking the homeless and homeless advocates, who take exception to Douglas' plan for a park concierge.
Seattle Times staff columnist
It's warming up in Seattle, which means a battle between Tom Douglas and the homeless over who belongs at one city park.
On Saturday, Douglas will kick off the first of four "Salmon-Chanted Evenings" at Victor Steinbrueck Park near the Pike Place Market.
For $15, people can sit at one of Seattle's most stunning spots and dine on the signature meal of one of the city's best-known chefs. The sun will drop behind the Olympics and the ferries will lumber across the Sound as the Market winds down for the day. Sounds lovely.
But not to the homeless advocates who consider the public park their own.
To them, Douglas' salmon dinners are a slap in the face from the haves to the have-nots.
Sure, it's nice that Douglas — who is renting part of the park for the dinners — is donating some of the profits for a public chess set and gardening classes.
The sore spot is that Douglas is using most of the profits to pay for a park concierge, who will stand beside a cart, pass out maps and keep an eye on things this summer, when the park and the Market are at their peak.
Homeless advocates see it as their community being policed, or shooed out of Steinbrueck like so many screeching gulls.
Sound familiar? We had the same squabble last year, which culminated in dueling cookouts: Douglas and his salmon in one corner, and members of the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) and the Women's Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL) hosting an alternative "Weenie Roast" across the way.
SHARE/WHEEL will do the same this year. On July 9, Aug. 13 and Sept. 10 they will set up across the park from Douglas. (This weekend they can't; they'll be busy installing the first "Leaves of Remembrance" in Seattle sidewalks at Second Avenue and Bell Street to honor the homeless who have died.)
The salmon-bake protest is a reactive thing; offense taken where none was intended. I don't get it.
So I went to the park the other morning to talk with the SHARE/WHEEL and homeless folks who gather for coffee.
Since when did the parks become yours alone? I asked. And what is wrong with having someone handing out maps, giving tourists directions and keeping an eye out for trouble that could endanger all of us, the homeless included?
"It's a word called 'gentrification.' I don't know if you've heard of gentrification, but that's what it's about," said Monte Smith, on the board of SHARE. "We feel that hiring security guards is not an answer to what a community could do.
"There is not enough housing."
They can police themselves, SHARE members told me. They want more shelter space, more housing. Bathrooms they can use without buying something first.
I get that. But why make people feel bad for being able to afford a $15 dinner and for wanting to sit in the park that their taxes maintain?
Seattle folks do plenty for the homeless. Some believe that's why there are so many here. We give out our change, we buy Real Change, we serve meals, donate food and clothing and write checks to any number of nonprofits, all the while thanking our lucky stars.
Is it a crime that we want to have grilled salmon outside four times a year? "We're not trying to make you feel guilty," said Anitra Freeman, a member of WHEEL. "It's just that no one should be left out."
Said a man named Scott: "We're not trying to 'bang, bang, bang' people; just ask them to think about it."
"They are trying to do what they think is right and I am trying to make the park safer. No big deal."
Douglas had intended to donate the leftovers to the Pike Place Senior Center but just learned that the center can't accept prepared food.
So it's likely the leftover dinners will be handed out to the same homeless folks who think Douglas is the enemy.
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com. She hates seafood.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-2334
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