Seattle rejects claim from Jewish cemetery damaged by homeless

Jul 6, 2018, 2:45 PM | Updated: 2:56 pm
Bikur Cholim Cemetery.(Courtesy photo) According to officials with the Bikur Cholim Cemetery, this couple was caught having sex on the gravestones. (Courtesy photo) Ari Hoffman standing with security personnel hired to monitor the Bikur Cholim Cemetery. (Courtesy photo) A homeless RV next to the Bikur Cholim Cemetery. (Courtesy photo) Used syringes are commonly found discarded on the ground and on graves at the Bikur Cholim Cemetery.(Courtesy photo) Officials with the Bikur Cholim Cemetery say they find bags filled with dirty syringes and feces littered around the grounds. (Courtesy photo)

When Ari Hoffman submitted his damage claim to the City of Seattle for nearly $230,000 of homeless-related damages to a Jewish cemetery, he had an idea it would be rejected.

“I got a call from this gentlemen … over at the city,” Hoffman told KTTH Radio’s Todd Herman. “…he said that ‘If we accept your claim, then we have to accept everybody else’s claim too.'”

“So we knew it was going to be rejected as soon as he said that,” he said.

Hoffman is a board member of the Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath Synagogue, which oversees two cemeteries — Sephardic Cemetery and the Bikur Cholim cemetery. Dire conditions have prompted calls for the city to respond. The neighboring homeless population has left trash and syringes throughout the grounds. At night, prostitutes and drug dealers like to conduct business there.

RELATED: Jewish cemeteries forced to spend thousands to clean up after homeless

The activity has resulted in damages to the cemetery. It has also prompted the synagogue to spend extra money as a preventative measure. They want the city to pay them back.

“We submitted for everything that we think was caused by city negligence, and city activity, because they actively made some of the policies that created this problem for us,” Hoffman said.

These expenses included clearing out trees where prostitutes were working in the woods, repairing damage from having their utilities hacked, and fixing the damage from the RVs that the city refused to tow. There is also the cleanup of discarded drug paraphernalia and feces across the cemetery grounds.

“This was all caused by their policies that enabled these street people to come to Seattle,” Hoffman said. “That’s what caused it, and they are responsible for it. Because they are responsible for it, we went online, we found the damage claim form and filled it out.”

Hoffman eventually got a call from a city employee.

“He said, ‘I can’t really get into it because I got to talk to the city attorney about it first,'” Hoffman recalled. “I said, ‘Shouldn’t you be investigating it first? Find out all the details, find out if they are true. I could be just somebody writing whatever.’”

That’s when Hoffman was told “If we accept your claim, we have to accept everybody else’s claim too.”

Lawsuit will be taken to city council

Hoffman claims that some of the damage was even done in retaliation after they blocked the homeless from hacking utilities, which he claims resulted in destroyed sprinklers and spray paint on the chapel. He plans to take the lawsuit to the Seattle City Council.

“When I met with Bruce Harrell, and he said he would deny this if anybody ever asked him, he told me that I should sue the city, and that he used to sue the city before he became a city councilperson.”

“They seem interested in settling with people in backroom deals like over the head tax, so maybe they’ll settle with us. If they don’t, we’re going to go as far as we can go to get this done.”

Hoffman is also accusing Councilmember Kshama Sawant of retaliating against his cemetery for raising issues with the city. He said Sawant has taken it personally. After news broke that he got volunteer security to walk the cemetery grounds for a Memorial Day event, he says Sawant organized an anti-Israel event at city hall.

“I’m connecting those two, 100 percent,” Hoffman said. “Because there was no advertising for it before I had my head-to-head with her and there was tons of advertising for it afterwards.”

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Seattle rejects claim from Jewish cemetery damaged by homeless