Seattle Public Schools said Monday that the district hopes to have everyone who’s currently staying at an encampment on the shores of Bitter Lake — situated between a school playground and a park playfield — into shelter or housing by mid-December.

Advocates hope the effort will help prove that homeless people will accept housing if it’s offered and encampment removals don’t have to come with the threat of force. Even Seattle encampments that have closed with most people going into housing or shelter had a certain and looming threat of forced eviction if campers didn’t leave of their own accord.

“We won’t have a sweep there. It won’t occur,” said Mike Mathias, director of a small nonprofit called Anything Helps that has focused on Bitter Lake for months. “We’ve learned a lot from this experience about how to just respect the space and stop the sweeps.”

The Bitter Lake encampment has been allowed to remain for six months, even with outcry from the neighborhood and the fact it’s situated between a busy playfield and a school playground, through summer and a return to in-person schooling. But school officials have made clear it can’t stay indefinitely.

“Now that it’s becoming wetter and colder, a sooner resolution to this would have been beneficial but I am really hopeful that we are going to see some major progress in the next several weeks,” said Liza Rankin, who represents the area on the school board.

Part of the reason the removal has taken some time is the camp’s liminal existence, right between the bounds of where school property ends and city property begins, which resulted in a bizarre turf war earlier this year. School district leaders didn’t want the city to forcibly remove the encampment, and city officials maintained the camp existed on school land and so wasn’t their responsibility.


But the city, school district and a small host of other organizations and governments have cleared enough space in shelter or housing about to come online that it appears everyone in the camp could have a space to go to. A nearby hotel bought by the county to turn into permanent housing will set aside about 15 rooms for Bitter Lake campers, and an about-to-open tiny house village should be able to provide 20 shed-sized houses. Between those and rent vouchers, 66 people should get housing, Mathias said.

Residents of the camp seem cautiously optimistic, but many of them have been through the camp removal process before and ended up back on the streets, like many who enter the shelter system. On a Monday afternoon visit, the camp was quiet, couched between sounds of yelling children on the Broadview-Thomson playground and young people playing soccer at the Bitter Lake Playfield.

Anthony Pieper, one of the leaders at the camp, believes he’ll move into a tiny house where he can apply for a rent voucher for homeless veterans — he said he served in the U.S. Army more than a decade ago — but isn’t sure about all of his fellow campers.

“Nobody comes out here choosing to be out here, but they stay out here because you get used to it, and it’s hard to adjust to something else,” Pieper said. Others may not want to abide by the rules of the new places they enter and get kicked out, he said.

Kanen Walker says he’s moving into the county-bought former Holiday Inn on Thursday, and though he thinks some of the rules feel like a “leash” — he has to be seen by staff once every 24 hours and meet with staff once every week for an hour, he said — he’s excited that there’s no end date on when he can stay there and hopes to start working once more as a journeyman welder and save up to buy a home.

Still, it’s hard to trust a system that feels as if it’s run by those who care more about clearing parks than helping people, Walker said.