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Clearance of downtown Seattle homeless camp wraps up as City Hall Park closes

Aug 11, 2021, 9:37 AM | Updated: Aug 16, 2021, 10:06 am
Closure notice Seattle City Hall Park...
A notice posted in Seattle's City Hall Park (Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

Street and sidewalk closures in and around Seattle’s City Hall Park began Friday morning, as efforts to clear a homeless encampment wrapped up.

Chronic homelessness reaches crisis levels in King County

Efforts to actually clear the park began in earnest on Tuesday, with an estimated 78 people referred to services as of Thursday afternoon. Twenty-nine of those were placed into hotel shelter spaces facilitated by the JustCARE program. Another 21 were placed in enhanced shelters, 10 were sent to tiny home villages, eight were directed toward additional city-run hotel shelters, and seven received approval for tiny home or hotel shelter spaces “in the vicinity.”

One other individual accepted “diversion resources to relocate out of state.” Three people did not accept offers of shelter and instead chose to “self-relocate.”

A notice posted early in the week gave individuals camped in the area until 7:30 a.m. on Friday to remove all personal property. A subsequent notice was posted by the city announcing a closure of the park, as well as several surrounding streets, lanes, and sidewalks to allow for “repairs and restoration.” Closures include the Fourth Avenue and Jefferson Street south crosswalk, sidewalks around City Hall Park, crosswalks leading into the area, curbside lanes on Fourth Avenue and Yesler Way, and Dilling Way (along with its angled parking).

Those closures began at 6 a.m. Friday. Once fencing is fully installed around the park, sidewalks and crosswalks will reopen “unless necessary fencing precludes their use.” The park itself will remain closed for an estimated 2-3 months. County and city officials will then “continue to work closely regarding long-term plans for the park post-closure.”

Seattle police officers also arrived at the park on Friday morning, pushing “Stop the Sweep Seattle” protesters out of the area as work continued to clear the few remaining tents.

Over the last several weeks, workers with the JustCARE program have conducted assessments, facilitated engagement, and “created individualized plans” for 52 unhoused individuals in the City Hall Park encampment. That outreach work wrapped up late last week. The expectation is that “nearly all individuals” will have voluntarily accepted offers of shelter, according to King County officials.

JustCARE operates as a collaboration between the city and a coalition of businesses, service providers, and outreach teams that work together to get unsheltered individuals into housing, while aiming to keep public spaces clear of encampments without involving law enforcement. The program recently saw success along Third Avenue in downtown Seattle, where tents were cleared, the street was cleaned, and 33 people who had been living on the street in the area were voluntarily moved into available homeless shelter spaces.

Seattle’s two new hotel homeless shelters are now officially open

The group operates as an alternative to what’s been a more siloed approach to addressing homelessness, while addressing concerns over the role of police officers in encampment sweeps. JustCARE’s work has also been buoyed by an increase in new hotel shelter spaces in Seattle and King County, which received at least 15 people who were previously camped along Third Avenue.

City Hall Park represents a prominent test case for JustCARE, given recent safety concerns voiced by employees at the neighboring King County Courthouse. County Councilmember Reagan Dunn previously called on the city to condemn the park as a public safety hazard. Following the park’s clearance this week, Dunn said that he is “cautiously optimistic.”

“The actions taken to finally clear City Hall Park respects the right of all people to have a reasonable expectation of safety in and around a public building,” he said in a news release. “Given recent assaults and homicides, it could also very well save lives and prevent further trauma. This is real progress.”

The King County Superior Court similarly praised this week’s efforts in a release of its own.

“This is a significant step toward improving safety for all, maintaining essential access to our justice system, and ensuring the Court is able to fulfill our constitutional mandates,” said Acting Presiding Judge Patrick Oishi.

Compassion Seattle also released a statement on Friday’s action:

“We applaud JustCARE’s success in bringing people inside from Seattle’s City Hall Park by providing housing and support services to those living unsheltered. More than 70 people were successfully referred to housing and shelter options. JustCARE’s success makes clear: when people experiencing homelessness are offered housing, shelter and comprehensive services that are tailored to their needs, they will accept it. This is yet another example of what implementation of Charter Amendment 29 will look like when approved by Seattle voters in November. Charter Amendment 29 directs Seattle’s government leaders, in cooperation with the Regional Homelessness Authority, to prioritize housing, services, and personal outreach to address homelessness in our parks and other public spaces.”

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Clearance of downtown Seattle homeless camp wraps up as City Hall Park closes