Rantz: School board members demanded Seattle not sweep homeless encampments from schools

Apr 5, 2021, 7:25 PM | Updated: Apr 7, 2021, 9:51 am

Members of the Seattle School Board demanded the mayor’s office not sweep dangerous and growing homeless encampments on two school properties.

In emails obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, Seattle School Board President Chandra Hampson and Director Zachary DeWolf stopped tried to stop Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office from sweeping encampments near Meany Middle School on Capitol Hill, and at Broadview Thomson K-8 in Bitter Lake.

Hampson demanded sweeps “never” occur in the city, including on school grounds. DeWolf empathically emailed the city, “this is not an ask for a sweep!”

Both encampments pose serious safety threats. The one at Meany Middle School has grown to over 40 tents as of Sunday morning. For students returning to school as part of Governor Jay Inslee’s school reopening order, the matter is urgent. Some students have already returned to campus.

Seattle School Board pushed back against sweeps

The two encampments at the center of security concerns have earned media attention for being housed on school property.

While encampments have been seldom cleared by the City of Seattle during the pandemic, the mayor’s office had grown increasingly concerned with the deteriorating situation near both schools ahead of their reopening. Inslee ordered schools at least partially reopened with hybrid in-person learning for grades K-6 by April 5.

In mid-march, a librarian and parent with the Seattle Public School district grew alarmed at the growing encampment at Miller Park on Capitol Hill, steps from the Meany Middle School campus. But the tents did not stay at the park. They now line the entrance to the school’s gym.

“Being a parent of a middle schooler and an employee who regularly walks by this to enter Meany, I am concerned for student safety,” the staffer wrote to the school board on March 18. “Middle school students coming from the south will walk through the encampment to get to school. If it is there when school starts, can the district provide extra adult supervision, before, during, and after school to ensure student safety?”

She included photos showing how bad the situation has gotten.

‘I do not believe in sweeps’

DeWolf forwarded the email to Mayor Jenny Durkan, Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller, and Seattle City Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda, Lorena Gonzalez, and Andrew Lewis. He asked for help, but expressed no interest in a sweep.

I want to state very clearly this is not an ask for a sweep! I do not believe in sweeps. People experiencing homelessness need housing and resources not traumatic sweeps of their livelihoods and belongings. I understand that the Council has allocated and assigned a lot of funding to support our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

BUT we do need some support — we are bringing students back to classrooms and school buildings/campuses in a matter of a few weeks. Do you have any ideas for how to help?

Concurrently in North Seattle, a group of neighbors around Broadview Thomson K-8 amplified similar concerns with the worsening homelessness crisis. They wrote a memo to Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau. In it, the group warned that “the encampment poses a threat to the safety of the students and staff.”

They said they informed SPS nine months earlier, and were promised something would be done, but nothing happened. Instead, the encampment on the school property grew. They noted the increase of crime in the area as a result, provided extensive photo evidence of their concerns, and demanded a formal meeting to discuss their issues.

 A ‘surprise’ miscommunication

After days of conversations, the city expressed interest in sweeping the encampments. But members of the school board got in the way.

Board President Hampson published a joint statement on Facebook with DeWolf on March 28 to decry sweeping the encampments from school property. The statement claimed sweeps “are decidedly inhumane and irresponsibly set people struggling with homelessness further into the margins.”

“We demand sweeps NEVER be performed on school grounds, adjacent or elsewhere in this City,” they wrote.

Deputy Mayor Sixkiller responded in a sternly-worded email to Board President Hampson explaining he “was surprised to learn of your concerns” for the city’s plan to remove the encampments.

In the March 29 email, Sixkiller said the city shares her desire to help the homeless, noting that campers have all been offered shelter during sweeps. But he warned of waiting too much longer to address the issue:

…it has also been the City’s experience that despite days or sometimes weeks — even months — of advanced outreach some individuals do not accept offers of shelter until the posted day of removal, if at all. Unfortunately, many encampments are dangerous not only for children and the surrounding community but for the individuals living in the encampment.

Sixkiller said the city would continue its dialogue with the board.

Board president wants the city to clear paths — but not sweep?

After two days passed, Hampson followed up with an email response to Sixkiller to clarify the board’s position on the two encampments. The focus was on Meany due to its direct encroachment on campus.

Hampson wanted assistance to clear passages for students. She wrote on March 31, in part:

At Meany, we are asking for the City’s support in confirming the property boundaries between SPS and City property at Meany, so that SPS can place appropriate signs with respect to the permitted uses of its property. We are also asking for the City’s support in helping clear access to the school, and safe and healthy routes to and from the school.  Specific concerns include: tents and other belongings against the wall of the gym and near the walking path on the south end of the school, including a sleeping bag across the door to the gym; the porta potty on 21st Avenue immediately adjacent to the school, with discarded clothing and unsanitary conditions around it; and tents at the bottom of the stairs from the Parks and Rec parking lot down to Miller Playfield – a likely path to school for students coming down from 19th Avenue – where needles were visible.

If Hampson opposes sweeps, it’s not clear how these asks could be met.

Neither Hampson nor DeWolf responded to multiple emails requesting comment.

I think these kids are in danger

Some parents are keeping kids home from school because of this crisis. I don’t blame them. Hampson and DeWolf are using their positions on the school board to influence policy well beyond their expertise or responsibilities. They don’t think an encampment should ever be cleared? Too bad. It’s not their call. The city should move on this even if these two radical activists oppose it. There is shelter space available.

In just one visit to Meany Middle School on Sunday, a homeless man was muttering to himself while walking around with a metal pole. Do we want to see if he’ll turn violent with a child?

There were so many tents that I lost count after about 40. No one knows who is inside these tents. All we know is that they have repeatedly turned down offers of service according to multiple reports, and they’ve completely trashed the park.

Kids have suffered enough through this pandemic. They’re finally able to return to school and see their friends. They shouldn’t have to dodge tents, trash, and sketchy characters as part of their day.

Hampson and DeWolf’s stubborn, radical ideology may get kids hurt. But they seem to care more about keeping homeless in tents where they will never get help, than bringing them indoors and protecting kids. How ghoulish.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
  • listen to jason rantzTune in to AM 770 KTTH weekdays at 3-6pm toThe Jason Rantz Show.

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Rantz: School board members demanded Seattle not sweep homeless encampments from schools