Take a stroll through Seattle’s Chinatown-International District (C-ID) and count the number of homeless people and drug addicts occupying alleyways and the vestibules of apartment buildings.
With all the accompanying litter, “This place is becoming like the City of Seattle’s dump,” says neighbor George Wood.
Tents and cardboard boxes are laid out against exercise equipment in Hing Hay Park.
The city cleared an encampment under the I-5 overpass on King Street multiple times this year, but it’s back.
And the tent city set up against adjacent to Vuu’s Beauty School is a full-blown drug den, attracting dealers and all sorts of crime.
Kim Nguyen owns this business and says she’s been broken into numerous times this year. And because it’s so expensive to replace her shattered windows, she has no choice but to hold off on repairs.
“I don’t like, this is a beauty school. People think about beauty. And this is not the beauty,” says Nguyen.
A few blocks away in Little Saigon, there is more open-air drug use near the notorious 12th and Jackson intersection.
Even after more police patrols were added to the area, the black market of stolen goods continues to thrive.
This is just a small sampling of the myriad problems associated with homelessness, and the drug crisis that now goes hand-in-hand, which have overwhelmed the neighborhood.
The Navigation Center, a shelter operated by DESC that follows a “harm-reduction” approach with “minimal rules” allows addicts to use all kinds of substances, with negative consequences that inevitably spill into the community.
More of this could be on the way. Many C-ID residents and business owners are now desperately trying to block King County Executive Dow Constantine’s plan for a homeless megaplex, just a block away in SODO, that will function as a central hub and house nearly 500 people from across the city.
But even with the stress of this on-going fight, Tanya Woo and volunteers with Seattle Chinatown-International District Community Watch spend hours each month giving back, quietly serving the homeless community.
That includes even going into encampments at night — even the one that’s currently on the site of the county’s proposed homeless megaplex at 6th and Airport Way.
“We obviously can’t fix all things, but we try our best to let people know we are here. Give the community hope,” says Woo.
Once a week several Vietnamese grandmothers also try to do their part…serving traditional rice and noodle dishes out of their station wagon.
They can barely speak English. But it’s their language of love that is making an impact.
And even with on-going problems associated with the encampment next to the beauty school, Nguyen is still being generous with her time, giving free haircuts to homeless people.
“You know I really like to help people, because yeah, everyone needs to help each other,” says Nguyen.
As the C-ID prepares for the possibility of another overwhelming burden, they just hope the city and county considers how much they’ve already sacrificed for the greater good.