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After homeless camp swept, Seattle businesses still have little hope

A group of tents, complete with piles of garbage, have been removed from this location along Lake City Way. (KTTH, Tom Amato)

After months of complaints from locals, Seattle’s navigation team cleared a problematic homeless encampment behind the LA Fitness on 31st Ave NE in Lake City. However, some nearby business owners are confident the camp will return.

Karl Straume is the General Manager of Lake City Autoworks. He’s been around Lake City for more than 30 years and said the homelessness problem has increasingly worsened.

“There used to be some homeless people 30 years ago,” he said. “They were nice and they were helpful. They would come down and ask, ‘Hey, can I sweep your bathroom for $20?,’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, for sure,’ but it’s not the same.”

Straum said the homeless individuals residing in this particular camp have stolen power and water from him. He said they would break into his telephone line and leave needles, garbage, condoms and all kinds of junk behind the shop. Even though the camp was swept, he doesn’t believe the problem will go away anytime soon. He’s seen this happen before.

“They used to be behind the Starbucks,” Straum said, pointing across the street. “They came and they cleaned that. We’d see them walk from there, with their shopping carts, up here behind [the gym]. Within a couple of hours, there were tents. I mean, where are they going to go?”

Straum isn’t the only business owner skeptical the camp will remain swept. Beverly Ivey owns Pacific Northwest Flooring on Lake City Avenue and said she has dealt with squatters for five years, roughly.

“The homeless camp has just been moving from block to block,” she said. “They’ll find another place where they can do it. It wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t try to go down to the gully across from us again.”

Ivey said the group has been hanging around their business for months and caused quite the disturbance.

“They get wild and crazy and scream,” Ivey said. “I’ve had neighbors call my business and say, ‘You’ve gotta get these people out from behind here because they’re keeping us up all night.”

The campers have also reportedly become aggressive. While Ivey said she’s afraid to go out after dark, and closes shop a half-hour early when she can, an employee of the local Chevron station said an aggressive man has stolen from the store on multiple occasions.

“He just came inside and started taking a beer,” she said. “We tried to stop him, but he started threatening us, so I called the cops.”

The city’s Human Services Department said they’ve been working for months to house some of the individuals. Spokeswoman Meg Olberding told KIRO Radio Monday they’ve been successful in housing some of the campers, but it does take time.

“It really is going person-by-person, one at a time, trying to identify the best route for them to feel safe, and to move them to a safer location,” Olberding said.

However, these Lake City business owners aren’t ready to believe the problem is solved.

“They’ll find something,” Ivey said. “I’m sure it won’t take them long.”

Straum is beginning to lose hope.

“City council needs to do something, pass some different laws,” he said. “I’ve stopped reading about it .. stopped watching. I think that’s pretty much everybody’s take. Kind of giving up.”

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