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Bikur Cholim Cemetery taking on Seattle over $230K homeless problem

According to officials with the Bikur Cholim Cemetery, this couple was caught having sex on the gravestones. (Courtesy photo)

A Jewish cemetery in Northgate is now taking on the City of Seattle for failing to take care of homelessness problems that have cost the cemetery nearly $230,000.

Bikur Cholim Cemetery Board member Ari Hoffman told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that his organization has filed a claim with the city. If Seattle does not respond to that claim, they will be able to file a lawsuit against the city. Homeless people have parked their RVs on the cemetery grounds and have made the holy ground an unsafe place. Hoffman called the situation “completely out of control.”

RELATED: Seattle’s Jewish cemetery overrun with crime

Over the past several years, the cemetery has seen problems such as needles and drug paraphernalia all over the grounds, unauthorized campers using the cemetery’s power and water supply, people barricading themselves in the bathroom, prostitutes and a pimp trying to enter the graveyard during a Memorial Day ceremony, and even homeless people having sex on headstones.

“You name it, it’s happened — they’ve even assaulted our groundskeepers at one point,” Hoffman said.

Bikur Cholim feels that the City of Seattle is responsible for the reprehensible crimes that have occurred because city leaders have created an environment that allows these acts to flourish.

“This is completely their fault; it’s their negligence that contributed to this,” he said. “And that’s why we had to spend all the money that we did.”

According to Hoffman, although the cemetery has been alerting the city since 2013 that RVs are illegally parked on the property, the city simply has repeatedly sent a form letter stating that nothing could be done about it. Councilmember Debora Juarez this year told Hoffman that, according to King County Superior Court case City of Seattle v. Steven Gregory Long, RVs are domiciles and the city can therefore not force them to leave.

“If that’s the case, the city is operating a giant RV park illegally,” Hoffman said. “So this is the city’s fault one way or another for not enforcing the laws that are on the books.”

Juarez did tell the cemetery board that the city was working on other solutions, including increasing police patrols around the cemetery, providing shelters for homeless people in the area, and providing more two-hour parking on North 115th Street.

Bikur Cholim vs Seattle

The cemetery’s current dollar amount spent addressing the issues is at $229,650. This number includes the cost of clearing woods and installing lights on the grounds so as to discourage campers, as well as the hiring of people to clean up the graveyard, monitor the grounds, and deal with any problems that arise on a daily basis for the past several years.

This dollar amount does not include categories such as theft, minor repairs, medical expenses for assaults, and security for the Memorial Day event.

There is already a chain-link fence in place around the cemetery that is locked, but Hoffman said that homeless people constantly cut holes into it “because they are so determined to get in there.”

He also pointed out that these problems are by no means limited to the Bikur Cholim Cemetery grounds.

“This is not a problem that is specific to the Jewish community, it’s a problem that is specific to the entire community and needs to be addressed,” Hoffman said. “And our city officials are failing us.”

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