Last week’s Real Change broke a story about how the Mayor’s Office has pursued a secret policy for at least six months of systematically dismantling homeless greenbelt encampments, throwing away people’s belongings, and offering little or no assistance to those thus displaced from their homes.
It gets worse. Department of Corrections labor being used to clear camps with police backup. Stories of cops entering encampments with guns and nightsticks drawn. Signs posted a mere day before that direct campers to clear out, offering only a disconnected phone number by way of assistance. Campers threatened with arrest when they attempt to retrieve belongings.
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act refer to a shift in policy from one of tolerance, where sweeps were triggered by neighborhood complaints, to a policy of "proactive" monthly "cleanups." The remarkable thing about all of this is the level of secrecy involved. The City Council was uninformed. The Committee to End Homelessness in King County was also kept in the dark.
While there is much information that we still don’t have, it’s hard to believe that this isn’t about numbers. While homeless sweeps have come before counts in the past, this is the first time the effort has been this systematic, sustained, and covert.
The actions of the Mayor’s office need to be brought fully to light. The sweeps need to be halted until a sensible policy, created in public and informed by advocates, can be put in place. And funds for humane and effective outreach to homeless campers need to be approved in the current budget. Anything less is unworthy of Seattle.