On Wednesday June 15th, 45 of your neighbors turned out for a discussion on the ‘homeless encampments’ that run up the Meyers Way corridor. The discussion was led by Travis Phelps, a Public Information Office for the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Also invited was a representative of the Seattle Police Department, but he was called back to his precinct for an emergency meeting just as he was entering our property, as were all other officers, so none were able to attend our meeting. Mr. Wiebke of the West Seattle Precinct was disappointed but had no control. Councilmember Lisa Herbold was in session and unable to attend. That being said the meeting still went well and is the beginning of ongoing discussions between all of us, the residents, and these agencies. We must keep in mind that the problem did not start yesterday and the solution will not come tomorrow.
My finally getting in touch with Officer Wiebke gave us the path to speak with the other agencies. Through a series of phone calls and emails I was finally able to speak to Dave McCormick at WSDOT. He arranged to send Mr. Phelps in his place for this first meeting. Mr. McCormick and I have committed to continuing this discussion surrounding what happens in our backyard. I thank Mr. McCormick for his willingness to help assuage our fears and answer our questions ongoing.
Mr. Phelps began his part by giving us the history of how WSDOT owns property. It all began with building the highway systems in our state. They bought many acres and plots of land in anticipation of building the roads, including the entrances and exits that we use. It was a rich history that most of us knew little about..
He then went on to address the issue(s) of homelessness in not just Seattle but throughout the country. What is happening across Meyers Way sadly takes place everywhere. We must understand the reasons that people are homeless in order to find ways to work together in the long term to try to resolve the societal issue. There is no ‘one brush’ paints all when it comes to the reasons a person may be homeless. For a very small number the choice may be deliberate but for the rest it is a matter of circumstance. A person maybe down on his luck, a family may have a breadwinner who has lost her job and another person may have come from another country and not been able to find work or shelter. Without going into great detail, these reasons just scratch the surface. One way to think about it; there, but for the grace of God go I. We never know how quickly our circumstance can change and we are suddenly homeless.
In the many conversations I’ve have with the residents, a couple of things are common; the ‘fear’ of a homeless person and that all homeless people are ‘criminals’. Fear is fear, and it is not incorrect. While the homeless often come through our property, in nearly seven years I have never known of anyone being assaulted by them. And it is just not rationale to believe they are all criminals. Some are likely to have criminal records, and the Seattle Police have made a number of arrests recently and taken those individuals into custody.
The ‘crime’ that is being committed across Meyers Way is that of trespassing. It simply means they are on the property without permission. It is a misdemeanor and has to be weighed by the authorities as to what to do. That brings us back to the discussion of what is going to happen across Meyers Way and up the hill into Top Hat.
The property itself is like a puzzle that all has to work together to final be solved. The property that belongs to WSDOT starts at the bottom of the hill and continues to just before the church. Once you cross the imaginary line the next part of the property that is not occupied, belongs to the City of Seattle. Just south of the church and continuing around the curve and on up the hill is now the responsibility of the King County Sheriff. So in just a short span of less than one mile you have three jurisdictions. You’ve probably noticed a different speed sign in each section! Adding to this WSDOT must rely on the Washington State Patrol when they must enter the property for cleanup and joining them is often the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff.
The homeless create many problems in our backyard/neighborhood whichever you want to call it and the discussion on Wednesday was a great deal about those problems. The who, what, why, when, where and how are the magic questions.
Who is responsible for the cleanup? The simple answer is: WSDOT. The more complicated answer is: many others. Keep in mind that there is a real difference between cleanup and clean out. Cleanup happens ongoing and clean out is a totally different matter since it is part of the greater problem in resolving the issue of homelessness.
What means many things though I think it is safe to say here in this moment it means…’what is anyone going to do about the mess across the street’? Again the answer is complicated. Because it goes far beyond just ‘moving’ them out. They have no place to go. So, removing them from (kicking them off) this property without real solutions will do nothing but have them trespassing on another property. The long-term solution means finding housing for them, but that does not solve the immediate problem.
Why? The homeless have been with us since the beginning of time. They are in every large city and in every small town. Yet, no matter where they are there we must always remember they are deserving of the same things in life that we often taken for granted, clothes on our backs, a roof over our head and food on the table; running water and bathroom facilities. I am as concerned with why they are homeless as I am with how do we as a society erase this terrible issue. We cannot simply say “not in my back yard”, convince someone to move them out of our line of sight and all will be well. That is not realistic.
When? Now that is the $64,000 question isn’t it? There actually is no one answer to this one. The next scheduled cleanup right now is to be around the 3rd week in August. There are many homeless encampments in the city of Seattle, several others very nearby. Each of which needs cleaning up, just like ours does. When will the homeless be gone? There is no real answer to that from WSDOT as the problem is about housing. As one of the residents stated: in order to begin to solve the problem we must provide what is necessary and that is ‘housing first’.
Where and How can be combined and includes all of us. Where this is going to be solved is beyond our living rooms but how is not. We can write our Mayor and our City Council members telling them of our concerns and the importance of working toward ‘housing first’ as the most important way of helping the homeless get back on a better path. I doubt that the number of homeless that ‘choose’ that deliberately is as large as many believe. The more of us that write letters, send emails and pick up the phone to contact those that have the power to impact change the better it will be for all. The contact information is going to be permanently posted on the bulletin boards. Use it please. Every voice counts and we can be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.
There were some great questions in this meeting as well as some wonderful suggestions. I will have some whistles to pass out at the meeting at the end of the month as well as some red blinking lights for the dog walkers to attach to their dog leashes. Suggestions were made about having self-defense classes. As I stated earlier, this is just the beginning of the discussion on this matter. The next meeting is already scheduled for July 27th so mark your calendars. WSDOT will be back as well as the Seattle Police Department. In the meantime write a letter, send an e-mail or make a phone call and ask our powers that be to work toward ‘housing first’ as quickly as possible.
Diane L Radischat, President