A black market of stolen goods being sold for pennies on the dollar thrives at the corner of 12th and Jackson. Just across the street, addicts use and trade hardcore drugs in plain sight.
Down the block on King Street, multiple infernos have raged out of control at a massive homeless encampment right underneath a state highway.
A regular sight in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, a man sits on the sidewalk with a needle in his arm, setting up for his next fix as students walk by on their way home from school.
The latest victim, caught in the middle of this unwanted action, is Summit Sierra High School. “It’s scary,” remarks one of the students.
This free-for-all of illicit activity is a common occurrence in the heart of Chinatown-International District.
Unfortunately, along with math and science, the students at Summit Sierra High School are also learning how to avoid dangerous drug fumes in their daily walks through a gauntlet of fentanyl users. One student tells me he’s “not quite sure what’s going on,” but sees “a lot of people who are addicted to a lot of things.”
When I ask drug users on the block if they know there is a school right across the street, I’m met with attitudes of entitlement and total disregard for the well-being of those around them. “I just try not to look at them…mind my own business,” says one of the high school students trying to deal with the rampant drug use around her school.
Although there has been an increase in police presence in the area, it is still not enough to make a lasting difference. The safety threat remains.
I met a school administrator, Zuri Aguayo, who tells me that students at Summit Sierra are being advised to walk in groups to stay safe: “our basketball team, cheerleader team, have to have adults all the time walking with them.”
If the open drug use wasn’t enough, the International District also faced the highest volume of shootings and police calls for shots fired in Seattle this past year. The area was a key contributor to the city’s highest violent crime rate in fifteen years.
During the State of the City address this week, Mayor Bruce Harrell acknowledged the ongoing problems in the International District. Disappointingly, he made no mention about the mess near Sierra Summit High School, nor plans for the city to address the situation.
I reached out to Mayor Harrell and International District Councilmember Tammy Morales, inquiring about their responsibility to address these hot spots, but I received no response.
The dangerous encampment is on Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) property, so I reached out for answers from WSDOT officials and Governor Jay Inslee as well.
But elected officials have remained silent on this issue, and students and school administrators are slowly realizing that they’re on their own.
I met Kate Plautz and her daughter Ella picking up trash and needles with a team of students from the school. They have stepped in to help their school and city because, “someone has to do something” says Plautz. “What are we going to do? Just sit and watch?”
Parents like Plautz have been sounding the alarm on the dangerous environment surrounding Sierra Summit for months, but they say elected officials are not responding to their pleas for help.
So, they’re taking matters into their own hands. Zuri Aguayo shows me a collection box of “all the needles that we picked up today.” Ella remarks, “honestly, we’re very desensitized to it,” as she scoops trash into a hazardous waste bag.
If handling this situation well were a test, Ella’s mom, Kate Plautz, says the city and the state would get a failing grade. She laments, “kids should not grow up stepping over people who are passed out.”