Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Stop the Secret Homeless Sweeps

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.


Dr. Wes Browning said...

Are the targeted sites all within the One Night Count areas?

The fact that this is being done without the knowledge of CEH doesn't relieve them of one iota of culpability. They created the atmosphere.

Greg Nickels belongs in jail for doing this at all. The fact that he has been doing this secretly means he's that much more of a crook. He compounds a crime against humanity with a crime against the open government we are entitled to. He has proved that his contempt for the rights of homeless people extends to an equal contempt for the rights of all the residents of Seattle to know what their government is doing in their names.

Nickels must be recalled.

Bill said...

I appreciate Real Change bringing this to light, along with earlier announcements via grapevines by Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness. At the Nov. 5th Interagency Council (CEHKC), Sandy Brown (Church Council)followed your lead by boldly asking (it was not on the agenda!) those gathered, particularly the Seattle HSD Director, what was up. The main thrust of her comment was that there is a policy shift at work, inferring that the sweeps would stop. However, there was some obsfucation in that it seems the City Utility folks are invovled as well as other departments. What seems clear is that while hizzoner is trolleying he really isn't aware what his department heads and their staff are doing. Lay blame at the top. I found in listening to HSD less connection between HSD and the sweeps (thus less intent evident to alter the ONC numbers). That said, it is no less serious, and I appreciated what sounded like help from HSD to end this. The Count issue aside, these encampments are people's ONLY homes for now. It must stop. NOW! Stay on this,....

Alison said...

Tim, I'm angry and sad but not surprised. (I'm also grateful that I no longer live in Seattle!) This is just an uglier version of the manipulation of numbers by the Pentagon, revealed by NPR a couple months ago.

It seems that the Iraq death tolls, horrifying as they've been, are larger than we knew, because they have been deliberately falsified. The Pentagon has been caught out telling the bereaved families of US military personnel killed in Iraq that they had to keep their loved ones' deaths secret for "security purposes."

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