What appeared at first glance to be a news release saying the Grand Hyatt hotel in Seattle was partnering with local governments to open its doors to homeless people living outdoors circulated Tuesday afternoon on Seattle’s environmental and Black Lives Matter social media sphere.
But hours later, an anonymous group behind the release acknowledged it was a hoax meant to pressure the Hyatt into bringing homeless campers inside to protect them from the unhealthy wildfire smoke that’s choked Seattle skies.
Anna Humphreys, one of the creators of the fake news release, said it was circulated by a mostly anonymous group of activists and homeless people connected to, but not speaking on behalf of, the marches still taking place in Seattle against police brutality.
“We honestly hoped that they’d open their doors” to people living outside, Humphreys said about the Hyatt.
Humphreys, as well as a dozen other activists and homeless people, went to the Hyatt that afternoon to demand rooms be opened. They were turned away by hotel security and staff, while a protest formed outside the downtown hotel.
Humphreys said the group that sent the fake news release wasn’t involved in organizing the protest. Police later ordered the protest to disperse, and by 6 p.m. all was quiet outside the hotel.
A Hyatt spokesperson called the group’s action “unethical” and “corporate impersonation.”
“Hyatt cares deeply for the Seattle community and for all the communities in which Hyatt hotels operate. We are outraged that an anonymous group issued a fake press release yesterday that misled and tried to lure many of Seattle’s most vulnerable individuals to expect hotel accommodations,” the spokesperson said via email.
The organizers were frustrated that the county and city have opened only one 100-bed shelter for the area’s thousands of people living outside to come in from the smoke, Humphreys said. They and other groups had been writing their representatives and circulating petitions and proposals, but felt they weren’t having any impact.
Humphreys said she reached out to the Hyatt on Saturday and was told if she submitted a proposal, management would get back to her in the middle of this week. The Hyatt spokesperson said via email that the hotel “has not received any requests to temporarily shelter homeless individuals.”
The group targeted the Hyatt because in June, when protests were sweeping the city, the hotel lit up one side with the letters “BLM” in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Humphreys pointed out that Black people are disproportionately represented among King County’s homeless population. An annual count and survey earlier this year estimated that 32% of King County’s homeless are Black, compared to just 7% of the county’s general population.
“We think that if they think Black lives matter, they should be proving it,” Humphreys said.
The group held a news conference outside City Hall on Wednesday, hoping to generate a response from local elected officials.
The smoke shelter had been full Sunday night through Tuesday night, but had 82 people in beds Wednesday, according to Sherry Hamilton, a county spokesperson.
The county did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it planned to open more shelters. Will Lemke, a spokesperson for the Seattle’s Human Services Department, said the city is still stretched thin when it comes to staffing and facilities that have appropriate ventilation.
“A campaign that is purposefully spreading misinformation creates a distraction from work that actually needs to get done during an emergency,” Lemke said.