Jewish cemeteries take on City of Seattle over homeless problem
For 10 years, on Memorial Day, Ari Hoffman has taken his family to two historic Seattle Jewish cemeteries to place American flags on the graves of veterans. The cemeteries date back to the 1800s. There are even Civil War veterans who rest there.
“And I’m not sure I can take them this year,” he said. “I’m really worried about security when we go out there in the evening time. Who is going to be around?”
Hoffman is a board member of the Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath Synagogue. They oversee the Sephardic Cemetery and the Bikur Cholim cemetery which are across the street from each other in North Seattle. He tells KTTH’s Todd Herman that as the homeless population exploded in Seattle over the past few years, the problems at the cemeteries have grown too.
“There’s a whole bunch of RVs parked there constantly,” Hoffman said. “The cops never tow them. They are parked right outside the fence. That’s also where mourners park for funerals. So they’ll ticket the mourners there for funerals, but they won’t ticket the RVs.”
Hoffman was on the grounds one recent morning with a news crew. They all watched one RV dweller walk his dog into the cemetery where the dog went to the bathroom on a tombstone. He has photos of it. The news crew has video of it.
“And the cops said they couldn’t do anything about it,” he said.
“These guys who are out on the street have hacked into the power supply of the cemetery and have stolen the power,” Hoffman said. “Nothing happened to them. They are still there. We had to spend $50,000 to clear an area of the cemetery that wasn’t ready for development yet, it was about 30-50 years away from being developed because prostitutes were working the woods; drug addicts were working the woods. So our groundskeepers come out in the mornings, and they find meth on the tombstones. People have defecated on the tombstones.”
Not to mention the numerous dirty syringes left lying around.
He has brought the matter to police and city leaders, but he says nothing has helped. But enough is enough. He has little faith that taking on the city will yield positive results, but that’s exactly what this Seattle Jewish community is going to do.
Jewish cemeteries vs Seattle
Hoffman says police told him that there was nothing they could do. That they have been told to lay off the homeless population in Seattle. So he went to city hall months ago, where he met with council members Tim Burgess and Mike O’Brien. In short, he was told that the city won’t criminalize the homeless and that Seattle needs more money for the problem.
“They did absolutely nothing,” Hoffman said. “They said a bunch of platitudes and that was the end of that …. They seemed like they were there to listen and were waiting for me to get out of their office. That’s what it really felt like.”
Hoffman says that O’Brien simply came off as arrogant.
“I didn’t feel like he was listening to me at all,” he said.
Now, Hoffman’s Jewish community is banding together to take on the city. They are talking with lawyers within the synagogue and are filing a grievance with the city to cover the $50,000 they had to spend because of the homeless problem.
“It’s so disappointing we have to go that way,” Hoffman said. “All you have to do is put out 2-hour parking in front of the cemetery and enforce it.”