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Downtown Seattle Association VP: ‘We need businesses to feel safe opening’

A homeless camp in South Lake Union. (Jason Rantz, KTTH)

The growing problem of public parks being taken over by homeless encampments has been an ongoing — and increasingly visible — issue in Seattle, impacting families and businesses. It’s evident throughout the city, and now business and community leaders are calling for action. Don Blakeney, VP of Advocacy & Economic Development for the Downtown Seattle Association joined the Gee and Ursula Show to discuss.

“I think there’s two-fold issues here. One is the kind of the backlog of maintenance and kind of repair issues that are going on in our parks. Those are not homelessness issues or homelessness related. There’s things that are in our parks, like the light’s not working or broken glass on a playground or damaged infrastructure in bathrooms that are open to the public. These are things that could be fixed without an encampment strategy,” he said.

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“The second challenge is the encampment challenge … and it will require a thoughtful response. We’ve seen parks like Denny Park in downtown Seattle right there in South Lake Union has seen an encampment that has grown to nearly 50 tents over the course of the last six months … We need kind of a fair response to homelessness and these encampments. But we also need to keep our public spaces online for folks who are living in apartments that need that vital space to walk the dog or run their children out when they’re doing their home schooling.”

What specific proposals do they have as a group to address the neglect of some of the basics of parks in Seattle, but also the homelessness issue?

“Some of these things will have to be solved through the Human Services Department, which involves outreach and some of those thoughtful approaches to dealing with encampments. But there’s also major garbage issues that are going on in our parks, and it seems to have overwhelmed the department. So could Seattle Public Utilities come in on and look at that and work with the parks department? Do we need police to come in to help make that safe while they’re doing that? Maybe that’s a possibility,” he said.

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“There’s probably an interdepartmental team that needs to come together, and that’s what we’ve asked for. We’ve asked for a thoughtful, coordinated response that prioritizes public space and kind of moves urgently forward to bring it back online.”

Part of the concern is making sure people feel safe in downtown Seattle, convincing businesses to stay there and not leave, and changing the image for tourists who may be hesitant to visit.

“We need people to feel safe coming back downtown, we need businesses to feel safe opening, and we need their employees feeling safe coming to work … We do hear from our members and stakeholders in downtown that public safety is their number one concern,” he said.

“I will say, though, that there are pockets of downtown that have started to come back. We do have 100,000 people living in downtown Seattle … There are pockets of events, neighborhoods in downtown that are teeming with people going to restaurants and doing stuff. You can see that at Pike Place Market, you can see it in Belltown, you can see it in Capitol Hill, but there are pockets that are more challenged, and some of those areas are parks. Just a couple of days ago, for example, someone set a Porta Potty on fire next to Pike Place Market at the Steinbrueck Park. We shouldn’t have that happening.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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