Seattle police surrounded the Sodo homeless camp known as The Field on Tuesday morning, set up metal barricades and began evicting residents from a camp so dirty that one official called the conditions “inhumane."
Evicted from the Sodo homeless camp known as the The Field Tuesday morning, the “community” some of its residents had hoped to keep together began to scatter.
Some accepted offers from city outreach workers and moved into temporary shelters. Others packed their belongings into carts and moved to nearby encampments.
The eviction began after Seattle police set up metal barricades on the camp’s borders. A few dozen officers, city officials and members of the Union Gospel Mission began waking up campers about 7 a.m.
At its peak, after city officials designated the camp as a stop-gap destination for those being evicted from homeless encampments in around the East Duwamish Greenbelt, the Field held as many as 80 tents, officials said.
Only a few dozen people remained in the camp Monday morning, said Meg Olberding, a spokeswoman with Seattle’s Human Services Department. The city has been reaching out to the camp residents and working to find shelter for all of them.
More than 28 tents could be seen at The Field — at South Royal Brougham Way and Airport Way South — Tuesday morning. Some drifted out of the large brown community center tent where a hand-painted sign read “The Sanctuary.”
About 9 a.m., through a steady rain, officials began cleaning up as residents went their separate ways. Residents were given clear plastic bags for their belongings. A box truck was available to take their belongings to city storage. The cleanup is expected to take two days.
Across the street, about a dozen protesters stood, chanting, “Sweep trash, not people.”
Mike Stewart, 31, said he’s been homeless his entire adult life. He took a Greyhound bus to Seattle from Kentucky about nine months ago because he’d heard there were jobs here, and had lived in The Field for the past three months.
“It’s the only place the whole nine months where I’ve been able to keep a tent or any stuff without someone stealing it,” Stewart said. He doesn’t have government ID, which he said makes staying in shelters difficult, and wasn’t sure where he would go next.
He walked, pushing a grocery cart loaded with two bikes and his belongings, down South Royal Brougham Way, toward the stadiums.
“I can go left, straight or right,” Stewart said. “I see a lot of rain to the left, I see a lot of rain to the right.”
The cleanup followed a Monday meeting of the City Council that grew heated when members several members declined to sign onto a letter to Mayor Ed Murray requesting the cleanup be postponed for a week.
Residents of the camp argued that the delay would allow them to create a governing organization to rectify its problems.
Council members Kshama Sawant, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez and Mike O’Brien each signed the letter. Members Tim Burgess, Lisa Herbold, Sally Bagshaw and M. Lorena González declined, citing public safety and health issues identified at the camp.
“We asked you for help and you told us ‘no’” said camp resident Reavy Washington, “Why should we be punished.”
The outcome was disappointing, said Cory Potts, a volunteer helping the camp residents organize. But several of the campers remain interested in pushing to get authorization from the city for a new encampment.
“They seemed to like the proposal fine,” Potts said. “They just hated the conditions the residents were living in.”
City officials say The Field, on a state-owned greenbelt among the winding on- and offramps of Interstates 90 and 5, has become a significant threat to the health and safety of the people still living there.
Authorities have charged two men in connection with the rape and prostitution of several teen runaways who were allegedly held inside the tent city. According to charging papers, some in the camp were aware that the teens were being exploited. Other remaining campers denied that, claiming they were unaware that the alleged victims were underage.
Darrell Rodgers, a manager of the community environmental health section for Public Health — Seattle & King County, said conditions at the small camp included indoor fires, garbage, hypodermic needles, food and human waste and a rat infestation.
Winter rains have turned the camp into a muddy bog filled with trash and other waste. Piles of garbage are stacked around the camp. Rats scurry through it in daylight.
The camp “has extreme public-health hazards that cannot be remediated while the area is encamped,” said Julie Moore, spokeswoman for the Seattle Finance and Administrative Service Department, earlier this week.
“What you have here are conditions that are inhumane for anyone to live in,” Rodgers said Tuesday morning at the camp. “I have just never seen conditions like this in such a small, condensed area.”
Jason Johnson, the deputy director of the city’s Human Services Department, said the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) and other service providers had been reaching out to campers for months. They’ve offered indoor shelter and space in sanctioned encampments — and money for hotel rooms or to help people transition to other housing, he said.
A tally of how many campers found accommodations at UGM and other shelters following the evictions was not immediately available.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re providing a ‘yes’ to everyone no matter what their needs are,” said Sola Plumacher, a strategic adviser with the Seattle Human Services Department.
As the cleanup proceeded, several who declined offers of shelter walked their belongings west to nearby encampments.
With her tent and other things stuffed into a grocery cart, Carrie Marshall walked through the rain to join friends at another camp in Sodo.
“Why am I am gonna go into a place where I don’t know people,” she said. “I feel safer out here.”
The city has three existing authorized encampments and is in the process of opening more. One, featuring 40 tiny houses, will open in Georgetown on March 15 and a similarly sized one will open off Aurora Avenue North in early April, according to Sharon Lee, director of the Low Income Housing Institute.
While city officials offered shelters or a move to a sanctioned encampment, many residents of The Field, who were mostly cooperative with authorities, weren’t accepting.
After giving the bulk of his things over to city workers for temporary storage, Jason Sanders, 41, hopped on his bike and headed west. He said he wasn’t sure where he was going to to after a year living inside the camp, but was thinking of the closure of the camp as “wake-up call” regarding sobriety.
“You get complacent in a place like that,” he said. “Maybe this is the nudge I need.”
Jerry Coleman, 38, had been camping at The Field for close to a year before he had to leave Tuesday. He also pushed a grocery cart west. He figured he’d look for another overpass near the stadiums.
“We’re going at this in circles,” Coleman said. “They’re not getting rid of nothing, just making us uncomfortable.”