Protesters clash over Woodland Park, Green Lake homeless encampments

Sep 22, 2021, 6:59 AM
woodland park...
Tents in North Seattle's Woodland Park. (KIRO 7 TV)

People in North Seattle protested on Tuesday afternoon, demanding the city clear the large homeless encampments at Woodland Park and Green Lake.

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According to the Seattle mayor’s office, more than 150 unhoused individuals are living at the two parks.

“There’s a lot of sadness and anger over this legendary park,” said John Ward, who helped put together the protest.

Ward used to coach cross country at Woodland Park. But now coaches say the area is too dangerous for kids to run through, and the city has stopped issuing event permits for the park.

About 40 people stood on the walking bridge over Aurora Avenue North near North 50th Street, holding signs with messages like, “We want our parks back!”

The area near the bowling lawn area at Woodland Park is one of the most concentrated for unhoused residents at the park. The city says there are currently about 68 tents and 18 structures.

At nearby Green Lake park, the city says there are 52 tents, three structures, 11 RVs, and about a dozen cars with people who are unhoused.

The situation brought out fed-up residents, demanding action from the city. However, counter-protestors who support the homeless showed up as well.

“I think it’s horrible because the park is to use, and by letting people live here, it actually is closing down the park,” said Amy Graff, a parent with two kids who are running cross country. She described parents’ frustration as “maxed out.”

The famous trails at lower Woodland Park typically bring thousands of runners every fall, with annual races. But earlier this year, the city started denying permits for running teams to host events there because of safety concerns.

“Denied. Access denied,” Ward said.

Over the weekend, Seattle Fire responded to three fires at camps around Green Lake, including one that got out of control and burned up a tent.

The Seattle Fire Department said as of Sept. 19, they’ve responded to 925 fires and illegal burns at encampments – already about 100 more than all of last year.

“I’m worried about the kids, I’m concerned,” Graff said.

Ward recalled an incident three years ago when he was watching runners with a friend.

“He was about to turn 70 years old. And out of nowhere, someone walked up and knocked him out. Then he turned around and came after me,” Ward said. “He had to be hospitalized. It was horrible, that person did not deserve to have his face broken.”

Parents and coaches say incidents are becoming more frequent.

“They (the kids) encountered a man with his pants down,” Graff said. “They can’t go to the bathroom because there’s a fire.”

Now residents are calling on the city to get the unhoused help, and to clear out city parks.

“Everyone is pointing the finger – at what point do we work together?” Graff said. “I think we can all solve this, it’s solvable.”

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A spokesperson from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said the Woodland Park camp — like most of the city’s larger encampments with repeated serious public safety issues – are on a priority list. The city would not share the priority list because changing circumstances keep the list in flux, but said earlier this week the Ballard Commons encampment is still on the list.

“The encampment is large and requires a significant amount of shelter availability and weeks of dedicated outreach prior to removal,” the spokesperson said in an email. “For instance, Miller Park had approximately 50 tents and structures and required more than three weeks of service provider engagement before the remaining debris of the encampment was removed. The end result, more than 40 individuals were referred to shelter (a referral means that a person accepted an available shelter bed).”

By the end of November, 364 new shelter spaces are expected to open.

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Protesters clash over Woodland Park, Green Lake homeless encampments