Protect Seattle’s Neighborhoods and Parks from Unauthorized Encampments

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Dear Mayor Jenny Durkan, Seattle City Council Members, and Deputy Secretary Roger Millar,

 

We are writing on behalf of our community to:   

  1. To detail the current negative impact of ongoing unauthorized camping activity in our neighborhoods and parks, placing both sheltered and unsheltered people at risk. 
  2. To request a plan from the City of Seattle and Washington State with regards to removing the current large burden of unauthorized camps in our neighborhoods and parks, which have considerably grown as a result of the COVID-19 pause.    
  3. To demand enforcement of illegal encampment laws in our residential areas and parks to protect our persons and properties.
  4. To advocate for restricting any future sanctioned encampments to locations away from residential areas and parks.    

In the recent months, we have filed multiple police and Find It Fix It reports reflecting the dangers posed by the unauthorized homeless encampments near our homes and parks; however, they remain for months and once removed quickly recur due to lack of enforcement of illegal encampment laws. During the current COVID-19 crisis, large unauthorized camps have grown in our neighborhoods, including camps at NE 75th street and 5th avenue NE, N 105th street, 45th street and I-5, a dangerous hoarder’s fort at Cowen Park, and many more. This has resulted in a disturbing amount of littering/pollution and increased criminal activity that impact us every day.   
  
As a result of the City and State’s failures to enforce the laws regarding unauthorized encampments, we have suffered the following:   

  • Large uncontrolled open fires next to our homes, endangering our lives and livelihoods (eg: large fire put out by SFD on March 18, 2020 in East Green Lake, and two in the Cowen Park “fort” on April 2 and April 12, 2020) 
  • Exposure risks due to uncapped, contaminated syringe needles thrown into our yards and in our walking paths   
  • Sanitation risks due to litter, putrefied foods, and pollution  
  • Trespassing, including weapons being stashed in our private properties  
  • Emotional distress, anxiety, fear for our safety and lives   
  • Financial costs for stolen and damaged private property, and stolen utilities 
  • Financial costs for self-protection (security cameras and monitoring software, security systems, reinforced fencing, gates, etc.)  
  • Damage to Environmentally Critical Areas resulting from unauthorized camping activities (soil erosion through vegetation damage, etc.), threatening downstream traffic and our immediately adjacent private lands  
  • Opportunity costs for time away from employed work and family/friends to time spent filing reports and advocating for help and protection from the City and State 

The November 1, 2017 letter from the Mayor's Office and City Department Leaders addressed to City Council Members outlines the known public health and safety risks associated with unauthorized encampments. This memorandum also recognizes the duties and potential for legal liability for the City with respect to personal injury/impact and personal property damage resulting from illegal camping activities: “By allowing the camping, the City could become responsible for the natural consequences of the camping activity. This would be a significant and potentially costly legal risk for the City". Given the clear knowledge the City and State have regarding the unauthorized camping sites and the dangers they poses to those living nearby, if our persons or properties were to experience injury or damage due to the illegal encampments, it would be difficult to conclude anything other than it is due to the City and/or State’s negligence.   
  
We understand the safety rationale for pausing camp removal efforts during the COVID-19 global emergency. Given the resulting large-scale accumulation of trash and illegal camps, what are the City and WA State’s plans to prioritize and remove these expeditiously? Has there been development of a plan, Emergency Operations, the capacity to fulfill this obligation? If removal is not accomplished quickly, these will be increasingly costly to address. We want transparency and need to be informed of this plan.     
  
We understand that the homelessness crisis is a complex problem requiring multilateral solutions; however, we do not tolerate unauthorized encampments as a rational, sustainable, nor a utilitarian solution. This approach has placed the residents of our city in increasing danger and distress. As a result, upon removal of the current illegal camps will our City and State protect us and enforce the laws to prohibit illegal re-encampment? Not only do we deserve protection as law-abiding citizens, but our property taxes fund this protection. Will Seattle and WA State join resources to achieve this given fluidity of encampments between City and State properties?  
  
Finally, considering the recent elevated limit on city-sanctioned encampments, we also request thoughtful placement of sanctioned camps away from residential neighborhoods and parks, and employment of measures against associated crime and environmental detriment.   
  
We request responses to the questions above from our City of Seattle and Washington State leaders. 

Thank you.