The city's Navigation Team attempted to clean out a homeless camp Tuesday in Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood, but was met with more than a dozen protesters at the scene.
The latest battle over Seattle’s homelessness policies occurred Tuesday as protesters attempted to stop city workers from clearing an unsanctioned encampment in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood.
The cleanup of the camp at Ravenna Woods park was scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday. But more than a dozen protesters arrived ahead of work crews and police, linking arms to block vehicle access to the camp where residents installed a large sign reading, “Do Homeless Lives Matter?”
Members of the Navigation Team, which coordinates cleanup of unsanctioned tent camps, and police officers providing security eventually made their way into the camp on foot, beginning an hourslong standoff with protesters punctuated by arguments over the city’s rules for managing unauthorized encampments.
By Seattle’s own estimates, there are around 400 unsanctioned encampments citywide. Most are made up of a handful of tents, but the policy for removing them has long been a flashpoint in the region’s response to the homelessness crisis.
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The Navigation Team, made of city staff, outreach workers and police officers, remains a key part of the city’s strategy. But its efforts are often hampered by the scarcity of shelter options for people living inside camps on and on the streets.
Under city rules, the city workers doing the camp removals and outreach workers must offer shelter beds to people in unauthorized camps before the city can remove the site, unless it poses an immediate danger. As new shelters have filled, the pace of cleanups has slowed dramatically, especially for larger tent camps.
Around eight people, mostly men, remained Tuesday morning at the Ravenna Woods camp near the University Village shopping center. They began packing up their belongings as the day moved on. One resident accepted an offer for emergency shelter from outreach workers before Tuesday’s cleanup, none did so on Tuesday. Others left in frustration as workers began breaking down tents over objections from protesters.
Tucked into a densely wooded patch of land above the Burke-Gilman Trail in Ravenna Woods, the camp was closed by the city in February, but re-formed when campers returned to the site.
Will Lemke, spokesman for the Navigation Team, said residents were given 72 hours’ notice of the cleanup. He said there had been multiple complaints about the camp, on a bluff above the University Village shopping center, adding that the camp returned to the team’s priority list in April after police arrested one resident on charges of being a felon in illegal possession of firearm ammunition.
The fact that homeless campers continue to rebuild the camp is evidence that the city’s policies for the so-called “sweep” of unsanctioned tent camps should be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up, said Dae Shik Kim Hawkins, one of the protest’s organizers.
“The city is spending thousands of dollars to disrupt the lives of people who don’t trust them to follow their own policies and who are simply going to come back a few days from now,” Hawkins said. “We could be spending that money on policies that are effective.”
Lemke acknowledged the frustration. “But with limited resources, the best that we can do is help people find stable housing,” he said.
Resident Tidus Nadella, 29, said he’d lived at the camp with friends for about three months, since the last time the camp was cleaned up. He called the camp a “tribalistic village” and said living there was his attempt to embrace a nomadic lifestyle.
Ethan Kent, 26, settled at the camp three months ago. After several years of living on the streets, he said he’d consider moving into a tiny home encampment or other shelter. “It’s a compulsion that kept me here,” he said. “But it may be time to let go of some of the things I’ve accumulated, and that’s more than just physical baggage.”
Delayed by the protest, work crews left the site Tuesday afternoon. Cleanup of debris and trash will continue at a later date, Lemke said.