Dori: City of Seattle tells volunteer group to stop helping the homeless

Nov 4, 2021, 5:05 PM | Updated: Nov 5, 2021, 7:06 am

Tired of writing to city leaders and getting no response, a crew of Northwest Seattle neighbors decided last year to start taking action. Armed with little more than barbecue tongs, kitchen-style pinchers, and trash bags, the grassroots “We Heart Seattle” volunteer team has since cleaned up more than 320,000 pounds of curbside garbage from around homeless camps.

For that — and for helping 68 indigent tent-and-tarp dwellers with resources to stop living on the street – City of Seattle leaders have a clear message for these volunteers: Knock it off.

“Stop helping homeless people. Stop picking up garbage in our parks.”

That’s the directive We Heart Seattle’s Andrea Suarez got last week during a Zoom meeting with Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss and at least 10 other city leaders.

“Having cleared more than 100,000 pounds of trash and housing at least five people from [Strauss’] district (District 6 — including Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Greenwood, Green Lake and Fremont), I assumed the call would be to thank our volunteers and include us in further outreach efforts,” Suarez told The Dori Monson Show.

Instead, Suarez says, she was shocked by what she calls an “ambush” of city and homelessness agency officials who told her that her registered nonprofit group’s efforts were “disruptive and confusing to the hard work of REACH and the Human Services Department has already been doing in Ballard Commons and Shilshole Avenue. I’m still asking myself, ‘When did volunteerism become disruptive?’”

Even when Suarez introduced a homeless man, who confirmed to Seattle city leaders that We Heart Seattle had his permission to clean up around his former encampment, Strauss and his colleagues said no.

“I had his written and verbal consent,” Suarez said.

The city representatives’ response, according to her, was that it was still in violation of the Multi-Department Rules requiring 90 days of storing this man’s camp before destroying it.

“These are the very paralyzing rules” that Suarez believes are preventing any progress in cleaning up city streets.

“Hired city contractors are not allowed to pick up trash on slopes because of liabilities,” she wrote. “I also sense that Seattle Parks and Seattle Public Utilities are under union jurisdiction ‘rules/wars’ as to who picks up encampment trash versus other trash which accumulates on the streets.”

Despite the pushback from the city and Councilmember Strauss, Suarez says We Heart Seattle isn’t giving up.

“I’m going to keep volunteering,” she said.

While the region is spending millions of dollars on tiny houses, hotels, and homeless housing options, she added, “what we do costs absolutely nothing.”

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Dori: City of Seattle tells volunteer group to stop helping the homeless