The irony is exquisite. Two areas a few blocks away from each other. Two policies. One, at Boren and Pike, creates an eco-friendly goat Shangri-La while offering a good excuse to fence off an area underneath the Interstate that once offered haven to homeless campers. The goats get to graze on Fridays and keep the grass nice and trimmed. They shit, of course, but noone seems to mind much.
A half-dozen blocks away, the Cherry Street viaduct, which has long been the site of numerous outdoors meals programs and home to 30-40 people per night, has received permanent no trespass status, and campsites are being removed without notification, outreach, or storage. The policy, unsurprisingly, works. On a recent night, just two campers were there under I-5.
When the City of Seattle released their homeless encampment protocols this year, we predicted that the recurrent encampment clause — which states that if encampments return to an area that has been swept three times within a six month period, responsibility to the campers no longer exists — would be used to return city policy to the gloves-off treatment of homeless campers by this fall. It's happening.
So, homelessness is being solved. Right? Wrong. Homeless people are being chased around without being offered help. Their possessions are being thrown away. They soon, we believe, will start receiving citations that threaten criminal penalties for trespass. This is not help. This is repression.
Speaking of repression, the new Park Rangers that have been hired to manage homeless people in public space now want to carry pepper spray. There's also some critical coverage of Tim Burgess' Safe Street's Initiative, in which I come off as unusually sane.
Tim Harris, director of Real Change, said he finds some steps in the initiative disturbing, but he does support other aspects of it, such as the addition of mental health professionals to the police force.The Cherry Street Viaduct sweeps are a harbinger of things to come. As homeless campers are swept from place to place without being offered adequate alternatives, they will, inevitably, be somewhere. As these “somewheres” are systematically eliminated, the additional toll in hardship, stress, and pure meanness to be endured will escalate. While the pressure on homeless people increases, so will the repression.
Under the current system, Harris said it is difficult for homeless people to find mental health help unless they are a danger to themselves or others.
Harris said he is concerned because the initiative does little to address the root causes of crime and homelessness. Instead, it aims to sweep the problem under the rug by giving more power to police and private security forces.
"The proposal sounds humane in some respects," he said. "But, when you really look at it, it's about increased policing and coercion. I'm afraid that a lot of the human services aspects of it are just window dressing."
Advocates are watching the city closely on this one. If bare survival is the best, for some, that this city can offer, it ought not make one a criminal.
Goat photo by Revel.