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RV Recriminations in Seattle

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Surveillance video released exclusively by Discovery Institute’s Fix Homelessness team shows a rust-colored car with black panels pull up to the corner of Orcas Street and 7th Avenue in Georgetown.

The driver walks to the RV parked across the street, then disappears for a few minutes off camera.  

He eventually heads back to the car. But before taking off, he and his passenger point guns out the window of the vehicle, firing several rounds into the air. 

The video was caught on J.W. Harvey’s surveillance system earlier this month.  Harvey owns Orcas Business Park and says this illegal discharge of a firearm is just the latest serious incident related to RV’s parked in Georgetown: “I’ve seen lots of fights, every incident you can think of I’ve seen on my video footage. But that’s the first time for guns.” 

Harvey laments that “there are the few that just screw it up for everybody else.”

Authorities say campers also recently broke into the King County maintenance facility at 707 S. Orcas Street.   

“Our homes were being broken into, our cars were being broken into,” says neighbor Ed Ball, who believes as long as RV’s remain, criminals will be attracted to the area. 

He adds, “I’m not saying all the RVs and homeless people are bad here, but we’ve gotta figure something out to help take care of them, so they’re not stuck in this type of situation.” 

Even with the on-going crackdown on illegal parking across the city, Ball says two RV owners returned a few days ago after city crews forced everyone to leave the area. 

“I think they were actually here on Orcas and 7th and now they’ve kind of relocated over here,” says Ball. 

Mariajose Barrera owns Mose Auto on S. Myrtle Street. She says her community is unfairly bearing the brunt of the overwhelming crush of RVs and associated problems that don’t plague other Seattle neighborhoods. 

“For us it’s a matter of safety. I’m constantly calling the cops to this area,” says Barrera. 

Frustrated that RVs are “just getting shuffled around,” she wants city leaders to prioritize Georgetown for consistent enforcement. 

The city’s new homelessness dashboard currently shows 225 RVs in Seattle, with 33 in Georgetown. That’s the second most in any neighborhood.  

Last month, Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington said public safety, along with other criteria, will be factored into the city’s response to tent or RV encampments. 

But she added that more complaints from neighbors won’t necessarily get crews out more quickly: “You don’t get higher rank because 20 people called. If we have something scheduled for June 15, and then tomorrow there’s a huge fire or somebody gets shot, we might move one of those down the line because the system is always updating itself.” 

It’s unclear if guns being fired into the air will fast-track a city clean up, because that information is not available in real time on the dashboard.  

Amanda Watts lives in an RV encampment just a block away from the most recent gun fire and says she’s tired of being unfairly blamed for the actions of others.

“We’re stereotyped to be thieves, dirty, crazy, bad people. But that’s not the reality of it,” says Watts.

As for Harvey’s case, he says police responded within five minutes. But so far no arrests have been made, and the matter remains under investigation. 

For now, Harvey’s trying to build trust and relationships with some of the men and women living in these vehicles: “I help them clean up. I pay my employees to come out here and we clean up the facility.”  

Let’s hope this act of kindness starts to make a difference as the city struggles to address problems in a troubled community.

Jonathan Choe

Journalist and Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Jonathan Choe is a journalist and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, covering homelessness issues for its Fix Homelessness initiative. Prior to joining Discovery, Choe spent several years as one of the lead reporters at KOMO-TV, consistently the top rated television station in Seattle. His in depth stories on crime and deep dive investigations into the homeless crisis led to measurable results in the community, including changes in public policy. Choe has more than two decades of experience in television news behind the scenes and in front of the camera for ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and Tribune. He has also been nominated and honored with multiple industry awards including an Emmy. Choe spent several years teaching classes on emerging media and entrepreneurship to under privileged youth in inner city Chicago. As an independent journalist, Choe also contributes regularly to the Mill Creek View and Lynnwood Times and has reported on exclusive stories in the past year for Daily Wire and The Postmillennial.