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SeaTac, Tukwila: We are not sending homeless to Seattle

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw leads a council committee meeting June 13, 2018 where she said she has witnessed SeaTac and Tukwila driving homeless people and dropping them of at downtown shelters. (Seattle Channel)

A city council member recently alleged that Tukwila and SeaTac are transporting homeless to downtown Seattle and dropping them off. According to Seattle’s neighbors, that’s not true.

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“I want to make it clear that we don’t have a practice of dropping people off in Seattle from SeaTac,” said SeaTac Police Chief Carl Cole. “That’s not how we operate.”

“We don’t have a policy, practice, or procedure that will take people, randomly, downtown to emergency shelters,” he said.

As the council’s Finance and Neighborhood Committee met Wednesday, Seattle Councilmember Sally Bagshaw argued the region has to collaborate on the homeless crisis. She alleged neighboring cities are sending their homeless to Seattle.

The county and the thirty-nine cities have got to be part of the solution, too. It’s on our backs, both because we have got a lot more visibility of people outside in tents; also, because people come here for services. We know, and I have seen with my own eyes, the City of Tukwila and the City of SeaTac drive up and drop people off at (the Downtown Emergency Service Center), as an example. Now, I appreciate the fact that they have their social services shoes on when they do that, but nonetheless, it is putting a burden on us, the City of Seattle and taxpayers, that really is not fairly shared.

Bagshaw and the council’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment or clarification on this statement.

Tukwila’s homeless response

Bagshaw’s allegation prompted a quick response from the Tukwila Police Department, stating “This is not a practice that we as a department or city engage in.”

Our practice and strategy in dealing with this growing homeless epidemic is not to take those in need and leave them in other cities. This does nothing to fix this growing issue and just forces the movement of people rather than addressing the root cause of the issue. Instead when we contact them, we offer them resources in the form of mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, counseling and medical treatment.

Tukwila partners with local churches to provide food, shelter, and other assistance. They also work with charities and nonprofits to address issues of mental illness, veteran issues, and more.

“Who are the homeless we encounter in Tukwila?” the department further states. “…The majority of those we encounter come to Tukwila by way of Seattle from other cities and states throughout the country.”

Read Tukwila’s entire response and other details about the city’s homeless response here.

SeaTac

On the other hand, SeaTac’s homeless issue is unique, Chief Cole said. There is no downtown, and therefore, few places for the homeless community to access resources. When they do encounter people experiencing homelessness, they do not drive them to Seattle. The only time anything like that could happen is likely for a medical issue, not for shelter services.

“That is not our policy,” Cole said. “The only people we transport are people who are in behavioral crisis, in such that they are a danger to themselves or others or they are so incapacitated by drugs or alcohol they can’t take care of themselves. And when they are transported, they are transported via ambulance and EMS people decide where they go. We don’t.”

“Unless they are under arrest or incapacitated, we can’t just pick people up and take them places,” he added.

King County Jail

There is one point from the Wednesday council committee meeting that Chief Cole says may have merit.

King County Jail is located in Seattle and receives people from police departments throughout the region. They may have come from elsewhere, but they are released into Seattle.

“That’s what happens,” Chief Cole said. “They get released out of the King County Jail and they are in Seattle. But they are free. If they bail themselves out, we can’t hold them for transport to somewhere else.”

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