[Hpn] ALERT: Seattle Tent City evicted for 5th time in a month FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Tue, 09 May 2000 18:09:50 -0700 (PDT)

SEE ALSO Anitra Freeman <anitra@speakeasy.org>

Seattle Tent City III photo journal (with captions):

FWD  Seattle Post-Intelligencer / Monday, May 8, 2000


     By Heath Foster and Tracy Johnson
     Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporters

    Cynthia Morris has already tucked everything she owns into a nylon
knapsack, and now she waits for the crowd to get moving again.

    For the fifth time in just over a month, she and about 60 other
homeless people have been told they must go. She stands on the scraggly
patch of grass outside All Saints Episcopal Church waving an unlighted
cigarette, one she has carefully saved after smoking half of it, and
glances around impassively.

    Eventually, a man in a grubby baseball cap tells her another church
will let them set up camp for two days. Rainier Avenue Free Methodist
Church, he says, is about a mile up the road.

    "Write it down because I'll forget," Morris tells him. "I keep
forgetting it. . . . I'm gonna get lost."

    The sleepy group spent yesterday morning pulling down tents and
dutifully rolling blankets. They heaped clothing into garbage sacks and
picked litter from the lawn.

    The group first set up camp March 31 on another scrap of land in South
Seattle. The homeless pitched tents and settled in to protest the closure
of three winter shelters that served about 130 people.

    Tomorrow, they probably will be on the move again.

    So-called "tent cities" are prohibited under the city's land-use codes,
and the group has been forced to move when it set down stakes on private or
public property.

    The advocacy group SHARE/WHEEL, made up homeless and formerly homeless
people, vows to keep this year's protest going unless the city agrees to
allow tent cities for those who can't get into Seattle's overcrowded
shelters. The non-profit organization already runs 14 shelters throughout
the city, serving more than 350 people.

    On any given night, there are about 1,500 homeless people in the city
and county who can't find space in one of the community's more than 4,000
shelter and transitional housing beds, according to the Seattle-King County
Advisory Committee on Homelessness.

    And many of the homeless in this year's tent city say they feel safer
there than sleeping alone in the streets or in some of the city's seedier

    Morris joined the camp several weeks ago to escape the streets. She has
lived wherever she could since she was 14, when she ran away from a series
of foster homes.

    Now her wavy hair is frosted with gray. She must take medicine to
control her seizures. Her back aches and her recollections of a turbulent
life are interrupted by an incessant cough.

    Moving all the time is grueling, but she has grown used to it. She
knows to leave when she is told, but to stay as long as she is allowed.

    And she knows how to pack.

    "I learned a long time ago -- streamline," she says, proudly patting
her small backpack.

    A man named Ricardo is upbeat but frustrated.

    "I wish we had a steady place; I hate moving back and forth," he says,
hands stuffed in his pockets. "I'm just trying to get by -- to make enough
money to pay some bills."

    The 40-year-old owes about $5,000 related to legal troubles. A temp
agency hooked him up with a job cleaning Safeco Field, but it pays minimum

    He hasn't been with the tent city clan long.

    "Most of the time, I sleep on the streets," he says.

    Anitra Freeman, a formerly homeless SHARE/WHEEL member, said it is
irresponsible of the city to ban tent cities if it cannot provide safe

    "It's when people are camped in some lonely, hidden spot . . . when
they get killed or get sick, and no one finds them," she says.

    This year's SHARE/WHEEL camp has set strict rules regarding cleanliness
and safety. No alcohol, weapons or fighting allowed. Campers are required
to sign in each night, use the portable toilets provided and respect the
rights of neighbors.

    But Alan Painter, director of the city's Human Services Department said
those standards would be tough to maintain over a long period of time. Most
tent-city experiments in the county, especially those in urban areas, have
ended in failure, he said.

    In order for the camps to meet health and safety standards, they would
need hot and cold running water, toilets, sanitary food preparation areas
and, most important, cooperation from the nearby neighborhoods. He said at
every location this year's tent city has occupied so far, the city has
fielded complaints.

    "It's a question of what bar we set for what we will accept in this
community," Painter said. "We can't allow people to live in substandard

    In 1998, city crews bulldozed an encampment on a Beacon Hill greenbelt
that had become home to about 30 people. Seven people were arrested when
they refused to leave.

    Painter hopes the city isn't forced to take similar action this year.
Last year's SHARE/WHEEL protest of the closing of the winter shelters ended
when Sacred Heart Church stepped forward to provide a new shelter.

    Freeman said the group intends to keep its camp going until the city
agrees to create more shelter beds.

    Given current levels of government funding and growth in the local
homeless population, city officials said, it won't be possible to provide
housing for every homeless person any time soon.

    Each night, more than 5,500 homeless people in the county are staying
in shelters, transitional housing or sleeping on the streets, compared with
4,500 five years ago, Painter said. Most social workers and shelter
directors attribute the jump to a scarcity of reasonably priced apartments
and rental homes.

    Painter said there are shelter and transitional housing beds for 4,009
homeless people, mostly concentrated in Seattle.

    Since Mayor Paul Schell took office, the city's spending on homeless
services has increased from $7.7 million in 1997 to $10.3 million today.
But Painter said Schell's first priority has been to spend the new money on
the most vulnerable homeless people -- families and children.

    The number of shelter beds in the city has grown by only 93 slots under
Schell, but the number of transitional housing beds has expanded by 45
percent. Those transitional slots, which help women and children move off
the streets and into permanent housing, have increased from 693 to 1,006.

    Painter said the city's ability to do more has been limited by severe
federal cuts in homeless funding. The amount the city and county jointly
receive from the Housing and Urban Development has dropped from $17 million
to $10 million over the past four years.

 1998-2000 Seattle Post-Intelligencer


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