LOCAL NEWS

Toddler found eating off ground at Seattle homeless encampment

Aug 29, 2016, 6:03 PM | Updated: Aug 31, 2016, 8:21 am
homeless children...
Tents sit under SB I-5 at James St. in Seattle. (Don O'Neill/KIRO Radio)
(Don O'Neill/KIRO Radio)

It was something that had become common for Washington State Patrol Sergeant Courtney Stewart — providing security while Washington Department of Transportation crews cleaned up remains of a Seattle encampment near Safeco Field. This time it brought her face-to-face with the issue of homeless children in the region.

Stewart was surprised to see several derelict RV’s and a number of tents still at the site, even though they’d been warned a cleanup was coming. Her surprise turned to anger when she rounded the corner and spotted a small homeless child sitting in the dirt.

Exclusive: Ride-along as Seattle police reach out to help homeless

“She saw an approximately two-year-old child sitting on the ground eating stale powdered donuts on the ground and coloring,” said Trooper Rick Johnson, a spokesperson for the Washington State Patrol (the State Patrol wouldn’t let us talk directly with Sgt. Stewart.)

Johnson said the sergeant was heartsick seeing the little girl in such deplorable conditions.

The child was filthy, her diaper full.

“So she took it upon herself to change the child’s diaper,” Johnson said.  “She noticed that one of her toenails had fungus and was falling off.”

The child’s parents were reportedly “at the store,” several other campers told Stewart. But Stewart felt those supposedly supervising her were active drug users not capable of providing appropriate supervision, Johnson said.

Sgt. Stewart called Child Protective Services directly and a representative came out and took the child into protective custody.

The mother eventually came back and didn’t seem too surprised or all that concerned, Johnson says.

Homeless children

It’s not the only time law enforcement has encountered homeless children in such horrible conditions.

I spoke with several officers at both the Washington State Patrol and Seattle Police Department who have come upon and tried to help homeless families. They are prohibited from talking on the record with media about homeless children.

All told me that unless there is an immediate and urgent threat, as perceived by CPS, they can’t do anything. However, a representative with Department of Social and Health Services clarified state law requires the immediate reporting of any concern. And law enforcement has the authorization to remove someone from a dangerous situation.

For example, one of my sources told me about destitute parents living in a bus in Seattle with several kids, but despite what he thought were unacceptable conditions for a child, CPS decided following an investigation that it was in the family’s best interest to keep the kids with the parents.

You’d think with the growing homeless crisis, someone would be out looking to ensure the safety of homeless children.

You’d be wrong — at least proactively.

The Department of Social and Health Services does not have any people proactively looking into the welfare of homeless children, according to Norah West, a spokesperson with DSHS.

DSHS does have dedicated staffers who respond to complaints of youth missing from foster care by encampment residents, law enforcement other family members or others, but that doesn’t address young children living in squalor with their homeless parent or parents.  And all responses are reactive.

“We know that supporting families to achieve housing stability also supports and reinforces the safety and well being of the children involved, so we spend a great deal of time, energy and resources providing that support,” West said. “This includes connecting families with local Community Services Offices for access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), housing vouchers, etc., when appropriate.”

“When families have found and secured housing on their own, but find they cannot pay first/last/deposit, we can also help with funds,” she said.

Multiple calls and an email sent to the City of Seattle’s Human Services Department went unanswered, so there was no way of determining if anyone from the city proactively investigates known encampments for signs of children in potential distress.

As for the little girl, DSHS won’t tell me what happened to her — whether she’s OK or whether she has been returned to the custody of her mother and is living back out on the streets. All we know is she isn’t dead.

“Except in the case of a fatality or near fatality of a child, information related to child welfare services, including whether or not a child is in the care of the state or otherwise ‘taken care of,’ is protected by confidentiality law (RCW 13.50.100),” West said.

But at least we know, thanks to Sgt. Stewart, that the child was given a chance.

Local News

clearview...
Andrew Scheinthal, KIRO 7 News

Deputies: Murder suspect shot in Snohomish County after multi agency investigation

Members of the King County-based Valley SWAT team opened fire in a Snohomish County parking lot Monday, while pursing a murder suspect.
1 day ago
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan budget...
Hanna Scott

New budget from Seattle mayor spends big on affordable housing, boosts funds for public safety

In the final budget proposal of her administration, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan lays out spending for $190 million on affordable housing.
1 day ago
Greyhound lawsuit...
Dalton Day

Greyhound settles $2.2 million lawsuit over warrantless WA state immigration sweeps

Greyhound Lines Inc. will pay a $2.2 million lawsuit settlement over compliance in warrantless immigration sweeps conducted by CBP out of Spokane Intermodal Center.
1 day ago
Plastic bag ban...
Nick Bowman

After 15-month delay, Washington plastic bag ban set to take effect this week

Washington state's plastic bag ban is set to take effect on on Friday, Oct. 1, after a lengthy 15-month delay brought on by the pandemic.
1 day ago
construction strike, carpenters...
MyNorthwest Staff

Seattle-area carpenters return to picketing Monday, set to bargain this week

Picketing across Seattle by the Northwest Carpenters Union will resume Monday, following a temporary pause after some wildcat strikes.
1 day ago
Pfizer booster...
MyNorthwest Staff

Pfizer COVID vaccine booster available for certain individuals in Washington

Health officials are allowed to start giving booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to certain individuals in Washington.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
...
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
...
By Alaska Airlines

Calling all football fans: follow Russell on the road

Take your Northwest spirit that we’re known for on the road this season with Alaska Airlines.
...
By Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
Toddler found eating off ground at Seattle homeless encampment