A few days ago, I was in downtown Seattle covering another encampment sweep on the problematic stretch along 3rd Avenue between James and Cherry streets.
An axe-wielding homeless man, who was lingering around after cleanup crews left, spotted me filming and chased me down the street. I managed to get away.
I assumed the city would find a way to prevent the tents from returning. But in less than 24 hours, it all came roaring back.
As Ellen Hulett, a security guard at a nearby building, put it, “They take the tents down; they put it back up.”
Hulett says she’s usually the one calling the police for help, and has already asked the city to remove these encampments numerous times just in the past few months.
In addition to blocking the sidewalk, she says, “People are being robbed, people are being threatened, people are being punched.”
Since last year, city crews cleared this camp on more than a dozen separate occasions.
But as I’ve reported before, some of these men and women are not actually homeless, but pitch so-called “trap tents” to do drugs or sell drugs.
Adding to the constant chaos in the area is its proximity to the government-run Morrison Hotel, the largest supportive housing building of the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC). Many people who work in this part of downtown say the addiction and the mental health crisis at the Morrison is clearly spilling out into the street.
Hulett says, “They tell us this street belongs to them—they get p***ed for telling them to remove them from our doorway.”
The Morrison deals with some of the highest 911 call volumes in the city. Officials there did not return my requests for comment on this story.
Jon Zmirak, visiting from Texas, notes, “The fact that these people are allowed to congregate, it hurts your business, it hurts you making a living.”
Mayor Bruce Harrell has a bird’s eye view of all the action from his city hall window. We asked his office how many times crews removed encampments at this location in the past year, and if there’s a plan to address these ongoing issues beyond the sweeps. So far, no response.
As to what’s the solution to preventing this from happening again, Hulett says, “I ask if there are going to be penalties. But I don’t know what they are going to do. I have no answers.”
She says until there’s a long term solution, the cycle will likely continue, with no end in sight.