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Seattle’s Homeless Shuffle

Published at Fix Homelessness

Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) posted removal notices last week at Terry Pettus Park in the Lake Union Neighborhood.

The notices advised vehicle owners to move by Thursday. A handful of cars usually end up getting towed after these kinds of notices.  And campers often need help to leave the area. 

It was different this time.  When crews arrived in the morning everyone was gone. One of the SDOT officers on scene told me this is the type of compliance they were hoping for. 

Problem is, some of the RVs simply moved a few hundred yards down to Fairview Avenue. Which is causing concern for the security guards outside Alexandria Center for Science and Technology. 

Russell Stebbins is the plant manager at Lake Union Dry Docks and says several vehicles from the park are now taking up spots in the city-owned parking lot in front of his ship-repair business. 

“They’re allowing people to throw garbage into the lake shore. They’re allowed to park indiscriminately and block people in,” says Stebbins. 

I watched as a frustrated contractor struggled to get his truck into the loading dock because of the crush of RVs blocking the entrance. He eventually gave up, saying, “Call us back when you have time to get this stuff moved,” before abruptly leaving the area with his team. 

The city is clearing out encampments across Seattle at a breakneck pace. But an inconvenient truth is emerging. After nearly every sweep, campers are refusing the shelter options being offered by outreach workers and are instead moving to other nearby streets and neighborhoods. 

It’s unclear what Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Unified Care Team or the King County Regional Homelessness Authority can do about this vicious cycle. Shelter and services are being offered before and after each encampment removal — but they’re being refused.  

Ed was one of those who moved down Fairview Avenue from Terry Pettus Park. He believes parking officers won’t come out until someone complains. Even then, it could take time to actually enforce the rule that vehicles cannot be in the same spot for more than 72 hours. 

“I’m feeling the squeeze, yes,” says Ed. But he’s hunkering down, choosing to stay in this spot until the city forces him to move again. He adds that he just wants “to be somewhere you’re not always pushed, forced out.”  

Steven, who just moved here from the park, says he’s starting to realize that the city is sending the homeless and RV community a strong message. But he questions their motives: “They really don’t care about anybody except for the people who got money.”  

He isn’t sure how much longer he can remain living this way on the streets. He laments, “I mean, it’s tiring.”