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Community advocate: System failing to address Seattle homelessness

A homeless encampment on public and private property near NW 46th Street in Seattle. (City of Seattle)

If you take a walk around many Seattle neighborhoods, you quickly see the impact homelessness and the opioid epidemic is having on our communities. The International District in particular, has been dealing with some significant issues, including a dangerous homeless encampment dealing drugs near the Yesler stair climb.

Erin Demmon is a community health and safety advocate. She has been calling attention to issues surrounding Seattle homelessness, but it doesn’t seem like the city has been very receptive.

“We have records of it happening all the way all the way back to 2004, 2005. The proximity to the jungle really makes us vulnerable to the drug traffic and the crime,” she told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “We have to deal with biohazard human waste, and toxic dumping every day. If I talk to the workers out the Yesler stairs, they report 25 to 30 needle pickups just on that one flight of stairs every single day, and there’s been a Yesler stairs attacks, we’ve had to break up fights. We have to revive people with Narcan who don’t have any vital signs.”

Demmon says the encampment has grown in size by approximately 25 people and within 150 yards of her front door. That said, she doesn’t want to imply that all those on the streets are dangerous, and emphasizes that this is all sign of how much help is needed.

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“I don’t want to miss-identify all of those who are seeking shelter. Of course, there’s amazing people out there that were trained in outreach and we meet folks every day who are down on their luck, born in the poverty and they all deserve universal human rights and equity and kindness,” she said.

“But within that population, there’s also obviously a lot of crime, a lot of drug traffic. The opioid epidemic is in our face every single day.”

While she’s implying that any one party is particularly to blame, Demmon believes that taking a more aggressive judicial approach to Seattle homelessness would be ideal — one that that combines compassion and accountability.

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“It’s not to point the finger at anybody, because I know the city is working hard, and I know that the SPD West precinct is working really hard. But I think that it’s more of a judicial process, because they feel like their hands are tied,” she said.

“The way they deal with it is pretty much the same. The Navigation team comes in and they attempt to clear the area and they offer outreach … And that’s an offer; they cannot make these people accept services. What what I feel would make a big difference is that if our judicial system decided to hold people accountable for crimes they’re committing, and offer deferred sentencing and mandatory rehab.”

“So they are actually fielded within the system instead of being totally turned around and just put back out on the street to do more drugs.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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