Kevin, whom his mates call "Boston" because that's where he's from, is giving me a walking tour of the growth in his neighborhood. "That place is new,"...
Kevin, whom his mates call “Boston” because that’s where he’s from, is giving me a walking tour of the growth in his neighborhood.
“That place is new,” he says. “That one’s new, too. This whole row over here is all new.”That one across there is brand-new — built yesterday.”
Built yesterday? Seattle has long been boomsville, glass towers rising like Vegas. But this may be our fastest-growing neighborhood yet.
Only we’re standing in the woods, on a sliver of scrap land along Interstate 5. The places are huts made of cardboard or tarps. Some are just hollows in the steep hillside, filled with blankets and sleeping bags, the rain be damned.
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“I never seen so many people sleeping out here before,” Boston shouts over the cars whizzing by 20 feet away.
Something is ragged in the Emerald City. We’ve had our frenzies, like the dot-coms and real estate. Now it feels like there’s an anti-boom, an echo of the others.
A week ago Friday wasn’t especially cold or windy or any of the other things that drive street people inside. But at Operation Nightwatch, a ministry for the homeless, it was a night for the record books anyway.
Near midnight, after finding spots to sleep for 175 people, workers gave bus tickets and blankets to 42 more. Then sent them wandering off down the street.
“Every shelter and tent city was full,” says Rick Reynolds, the pastor who runs Operation Nightwatch. “We called them, and they all said, ‘Sorry, no more room tonight.’ “
Operation Nightwatch has been in its current spot, near Dearborn, since 1999. This was the most people it has ever turned away.
Where did the 18 women and 24 men go? The plan was to maybe ride the all-night Metro 174 bus back and forth to the airport. A rolling shelter.
“Nobody could think of a better option,” Reynolds said. “God help us.”
So it goes lately around town. There technically isn’t even a recession, only a slowdown. Yet something is definitely fraying.
My colleague Nicole Brodeur just wrote about a man who pitched his tent in plain sight along Rainier Avenue South. The other day I noticed that a half-dozen men had turned a freeway cloverleaf near Northgate Mall into a campground.
After writing a few months ago about the surge in mobile homeless — urban car campers — I got back dozens of reader accounts of growing car-colonies in their neighborhoods: in Ballard, Bitter Lake, Belltown, West Seattle.
“It feels a little cataclysmic out there,” Reynolds says. “We expect to break our dubious new record soon, probably in June.”
What are we going to do about this, Seattle? Anything?
Every time I write on this subject, a lot of you say that we’re too easy on street people. If we’re “Freeattle,” the city of handouts, why wouldn’t they flock here? Crack down and maybe they’ll go away.
Maybe. The mayor is trying that with greenbelt campers. The city is right to clean up the parks, but based on what I saw along I-5, the denizens are simply moving along. Adding 20 beds to the shelter system, which the city did, is trivial when 42 are turned aside by a single shelter on an otherwise pleasant night.
We do have our Committee to End Homelessness in King County (www.cehkc.org). It is a 10-year project now entering year four. It is loaded with ideas, drive and optimism, all of which is good. The stream of propaganda-like press material touting its early success is another story.
Because we are not ending homelessness. Right now we are overflowing with it.
It seems like the interim ideas people have, for temporary shelters, or, as I suggested in February, for a safe-parking program using idle city lots, are being ignored.
Ten-year plans are fine. But as we head into Seattle’s summer of homelessness, somebody might consider taking action sooner. Like now.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.