Scores of people experiencing homelessness in North Seattle were removed from an encampment in Woodland Park over the last four months, with the majority leaving in the days leading up to the city’s clearing of more than 40 tents and structures last week.
With 80 people connected to shelter or housing, officials from the city and King County Regional Homelessness Authority are touting their apparent success from a “genuine outreach” approach.
“This is the largest number of people connected with shelter and housing during an encampment clearing in [the] city’s history,” Councilmember Dan Strauss said in a news conference Thursday, a little over a week after the encampment in his district was cleared.
“When we lead with a human-centered approach, we see these results,” he said.
According to the mayor’s office, outreach to the encampment began in January, with more than four months of work resulting in a total of 100 offers for shelter and over 80 individuals actually connected with shelter, including 60 referrals to tiny house villages, 25 referrals to enhanced shelters and four relocations to permanent housing alternatives.
“This is what we want to highlight today, which is a critical step toward progress, permanent housing and treatment,” Mayor Bruce Harrell said.
But the broader impact of the clearing lies in the ability of partners — including the city, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, nonprofits and community groups — to replicate thorough outreach, according to Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones.
“This can’t be a victory lap because not everyone is housed, right? And in homelessness, there’s no such thing as a good press conference until everybody is housed, and today is not that day,” Dones said. “However, what we have done in partnership is different, and it’s important that we recognize that difference.”
According to Dones and the mayor’s office, the Woodland Park effort resulted in the most exits of any encampment in the city’s history. That success, Dones says, is a result of “genuine outreach” to meet the individual needs of those in the encampment and not forcing anyone out before shelter was available.
“This time, as we did in Ballard Commons and as we did in City Hall Park, we prioritized getting to know what people needed. We prioritized generating placements for them based on those needs. And we let what the system could do — that bed availability — dictate the speed at which we moved, rather than trying to force a false outcome,” Dones said.
“The results of that really do speak for themselves,” Dones added.
Connecting people with treatment and services throughout the removal ranged from REACH, a homeless service provider coordinating medical treatment through a nurse on-site, to the Seattle Parks Department coordinating requested trash pickup for those in the encampment.
“We can make sure that people’s needs are being met, that the basics are being taken care of,” Dones said. “And again, approaching it with consistent humanity.”
Housing plan to come
When asked about a commitment Harrell made previously to stand up 1,000 units of shelter in his first six months in office, Deputy Mayor of Housing and Homelessness Tiffany Washington said the administration was “on track,” with the 1,000 units identified internally.
A previously promised public dashboard — which Harrell says will track available units, number of encampments cleared and where in the city people are living unhoused, and will include a “sort of template” of the city’s housing strategy — should be available by the end of the month, according to a spokesperson for the mayor.
Harrell campaigned on clearing encampments — even hosting one speech on the subject at Woodland Park — and has been bullish in doing so, moving more than 30 in less than his first 100 days.
When asked if the success of the slower approach at Woodland Park would result in a slower rate of encampment clearings going forward, Harrell said “the short answer is no.”
Washington explained that the volume of people needing shelter from Woodland Park made the clearing an anomaly, and the city would not need to take the same slow approach for other encampments.
“And so, what it has taken to clear these areas are because of the number of people who sheltered in place for two years. We don’t have anywhere near the size of the encampments that have been closed anywhere else across the city,” Washington said. “And so we have regular shelter bed availability that can probably meet the needs on a regular basis.”
After removals began at the Woodland Park encampment, new people arrived seeking services. According to Dones, that’s a sign of progress.
“It is a marker of success that people came to a place where they saw a good thing happening. That’s what we need to replicate,” they said. “We need to earn the trust of the people experiencing homelessness in our community. We have broken that trust. We must restore it by doing this again and again and again until everyone is housed.”