Dozens of frustrated parents and neighbors protested with signs over Interstate 5 in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood on Friday morning.
For over a year, parents and neighbors have been concerned about a dangerous homeless encampment, the site of shootings and crime, across the street from John Stanford International School. Their pleas for the removal of the encampment to protect their children have been met with inaction.
The messages on their signs were directed at Governor Inslee, officials with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA). Parents are particularly frustrated with the CEO of KCRHA, Marc Dones, who happened to be on vacation during the protest.
“This is where he should be — right here, right now,” replied James Sabatinni, one of the parents, when I told him about Marc Dones’ absence.
The dangerous encampment has been here for over a year, and parents felt it was time to call officials to account for failing to address the problem.
The citizens of the area are alarmed by mounting problems, including deaths, at this camp. And Karol Campbell, a neighbor, says that ignoring the situation is “not doing the people living in this encampment any good.”
Ashley Cappel, an organizer of the rally, emphasizes that parents are here to call out failed public policies that are allowing this blight to continue.
She underscores that the rally “is not against the unsheltered” and that “we want them to get help, housing, and services.” But she says, “we also want our kids safe.”
As the rally continued, Stop the Sweeps Seattle, which is against removal of tents, and even trash, launched a counter protest in front of the encampment.
I’m yelled at as I walk by the activists, “get the f*** out of here man!”
Activists with Stop the Sweeps even prevented an outreach group, We Heart Seattle, from entering the encampment to clean up litter or drop off coffee for the men and women living there.
Andrea Suarez, founder of We Heart Seattle, informed the activists that the volunteers had gotten permission from the homeless. She says volunteers with her organization have been coming to this encampment to remove garbage for months.
“They’ve said no. They’ve said no,” insists Edward Mast from Stop the Sweeps.
Suarez says that Stop the Sweeps activists are “putting words in the mouths of the homeless” in an attempt to push their own far-left ideology.
Tim Emerson from We Heart Seattle tried to enter the camp peacefully, but he was physically pushed away by one of the activists with a cardboard sign.
Meanwhile, parents and neighbors stayed away from the clash at the encampment to focus on their own message.
When I tell Eli Hosher, who’s holding a sign over the freeway, about the scene at the encampment, he laughs. “You’re going to counter-protest against parents that are concerned about the safety of their kids? Great, nice. Makes sense,” he jokes.
Hosher tells me that elected officials were invited to conversations with parents, but no one appeared. Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is among the officials that have yet to meet with the parents.
One of the parents, Karen Dalton, wants the mayor to step in and take control of this situation if the state does not follow through by the end of the month. “I don’t think Harrell has spoken out enough about it and stood up for our community,” she says.
Later that afternoon, Governor Inslee’s office told me in a statement that “housing partners are finalizing housing options and will begin transitioning people next week to close the site by the end of march.”
Finally, some good news for the parents and neighbors.