With an eviction looming, the remaining residents of an unauthorized Sodo tent city want to persuade city officials to keep it open.
Residents of the Seattle homeless camp known as The Field know they are running out of time. Barring an eleventh-hour reversal, everyone still living in the Sodo encampment Tuesday will be evicted by order of the city.
On Sunday, several camp residents and volunteers huddled near a wood-burning stove inside the community center, a large brown tent at the center of the camp, to discuss the path forward.
“Right now we just have to buy time,” said Reavy Washington, a camp resident. “Beyond forming committees, beyond everything else, we need to do what we need to stay alive past Tuesday.”
The group hopes to persuade city officials to delay a cleanup of the encampment and add it to the list of authorized and regulated tent cities — in Ballard, Interbay and Rainier Valley. Another four encampments, which Mayor Ed Murray has called a stopgap measure, will be opened in the coming months.
But city officials say The Field, a plot of state-owned greenbelt at the intersection of Royal Brougham Way and Airport Way South in Sodo, has become a threat to the health and safety of the people still living there.
The camp “has extreme public-health hazards that cannot be remediated while the area is encamped,” said Julie Moore, spokeswoman for the Seattle Finance and Administrative Service Department, the agency that manages the city’s authorized and unauthorized homeless encampments.
Winter rains have turned the camp floor into a muddy bog filled with trash and other waste. Piles of garbage are stacked around the camp. Rats scurry through it in daylight.
The group is drafting governing rules for the camp, which they plan to submit Monday to the Seattle City Council.
Not all of the residents are optimistic.
“You have the same people in there talking about building organizations and making changes to the camp who are the reasons the camp has problems,” resident Virgil Roberson says.
Washington says he understands the cynicism. “Conditions are unstable here,” he says. “We have to hold ourselves accountable.”
But Washington says it was only after city officials approved The Field as an alternative destination for people ordered out of homeless encampments inside the Duwamish Greenbelt, better known as The Jungle, that conditions began to turn.
The city provided several “harm-reduction” services, including portable toilets and trash dumpsters. Cory Potts, a volunteer supporting the campers, says they were told by city officials that The Field would remain open until the city opened a planned 24-hour shelter and service center designed to accommodate people moving out of unauthorized homeless camps.
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City officials say that plan was scuttled by a delay in the siting of the Navigation Center, which was originally scheduled for launch in January.
“At no point did the armada of people the city has working on homelessness come down and say that closing this place was a possibility,” Potts says.
City Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw, who toured the camp last week, says the city “washed its hands of the camp.”
“I think if we had let them know what all of their options were as time has gone on then we wouldn’t see what the camp has devolved into,” she said.
Officials acknowledge that the pending closure of the camp “isn’t ideal for the people who remain.”
“We are encouraged by the number of people who were able to access shelter and services once the closure was announced,” Moore says.