Rantz: Seattle homeless take over Ballard as coronavirus pause clean-ups
Seattle homeless have taken over one neighborhood after the city paused encampment clean-ups. Tents are seemingly everywhere with no Seattle city department willing to intervene, as much of the work they used to do has been put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s a shocking site to neighbors who have never seen this many encampments around their neighborhood. Some residents will no longer walk alone, another carries around a handgun for protection. It’s led some to consider starting a neighborhood watch.
Alarming Seattle homeless takeover
Rob Harwood, 34, has lived in Ballard for three years now. He’s a producer and board-operator with Bonneville Seattle, though he’s taken some time off recently to care for an elderly relative during the coronavirus stay-at-home order. He’s shocked at what his neighborhood has turned into.
“Ballard was a homeless hotbed long before coronavirus,” Harwood told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “The difference now is that encampment sweeps have officially halted.”
And it shows.
Harwood provided a number of photos he took around Ballard. Tents line entire city blocks, blocking businesses and the sidewalk. Others are erected in front of homes. So much trash piles up that the nearby St. Luke’s Episcopal Church regularly walks the neighborhood to pick up whatever they can.
The community is growing scared. Harwood notes car prowls and burglaries appear to be on the rise.
‘Every man for himself’
Ballard resident Patty Pronesti feels scared. When she leaves her home during essential trips, she brings with her a strikingly loud handheld alarm and a .38 Special.
“I believe the community is at a point where it’s every man for himself,” she told KOMO TV.
Like Harwood, she has noticed how her neighborhood is changing now that the city isn’t connecting the homeless with shelters to stay in.
“We don’t feel safe in our own neighborhoods,” another neighbor told KOMO TV. “And especially when we pay a lot of money to live here.”
Harwood suspects the criminal element within the Seattle homeless community to be “emboldened by the lack of consequences they face.”
To be clear, the Seattle homeless population is not exclusively driving the crime statistics. They may not even be a big part of it. There are prolific offenders, and other petty offenders, taking advantage of lax laws.
Seattle Police officers have warned that “anything goes” with criminals now that King County announced they will not book most misdemeanor offenses. Seattle recently saw a 21% increase in burglaries alone thanks to the policy and stay-at-home order.
“I don’t feel safe around here at all, especially at night going up against the organized prowlers and thieves my neighbors have caught on camera,” Harwood admits. “First time in my life I’ve wanted to get a gun.”
So what are these residents to do? Form a neighborhood watch.
Harwood and his fellow neighbors are reluctantly considering neighborhood patrols after the resurgence of Seattle homeless encampments. Even though there’s a stay-at-home order in place, they feel it’s necessary to protect their homes.
For Harwood, this isn’t his first choice.
“I personally have reached out to the north precinct to inform them my neighbors and I are discussing forming night patrols to make our presence felt,” Harwood tells me. “I was hoping they’d talk me out of it and assure me that they’d ramp up their patrols, but was taken back to hear [an officer] say that he thought it was a good idea.”
Seattle leaders officially suspended clean-ups and sweeps by the Navigation Team in mid-March and refocused their attention on coronavirus mitigation. It’s unclear if the Navigation Team will return to sweeping up encampments, one of the only moves that Mayor Jenny Durkan has used to actually control the lawless encampments from popping up across the city.
But Durkan has come under pressure from the Socialist wing of the Seattle City Council that has long hoped to completely destroy the Navigation Team. But this pause has reintroduced the problem of Seattle homeless encampments taking over neighborhoods, driving up crime.
Harwood is aware that “not all homeless people are violent criminals and addicts. … But many of them are. Something needs to be done to get these people off the streets.”
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