Jul 28, 2022 - News

Seattle encampment removals continue during heat wave

Tents as part of an encampment are shown in front of a chain link fence.

A community health services adviser visits an encampment to speak with residents about moving to a homeless shelter on March 12 in Seattle. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Seattle's extreme heat hasn't deterred Mayor Bruce Harrell's response to the homelessness crisis, as his administration moves forward with three planned encampment removals this week.

Driving the news: Harrell's office said Tuesday that a tent encampment removal in Woodland Park and two "RV remediations" — including one completed in SoDo on Tuesday amid record-breaking heat — have been planned for weeks and were coordinated with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.

  • The mayor's office has offered shelter and services to all of the camps' residents, and KCRHA activated a "Tier 1" response to the heatwave by opening cooling centers and freeing up funds for additional services during an "excessive heat warning" expected to last into the weekend.
  • This week's removals aim to address "public health and safety concerns at those sites while helping those experiencing homelessness get indoors, into shelter, and out of the heat," a statement from the mayor's office read.
  • No additional encampment removals are expected during the heatwave, but "shelter referrals to get people into cool and safe places will continue," per the statement.

Yes but: Some advocates for unsheltered people and at least one council member have raised concerns over the timing of the latest removals.

  • "We know that this extreme heat is dangerous for many medically vulnerable folks who live on this street and being swept is challenging enough without the added stressor of the scorching temperature," council member Tammy Morales, whose district includes SoDo, told The Seattle Times.

The other side: "Now is the time to bring people indoors. The Unified Care Team will continue to prioritize urgent work to get people into shelter and out of the heat and elements," Jamie Housen, Harrell's spokesperson, said in an email.

Context: During last year's record-breaking heatwave, officials documented 31 deaths directly related to the outside temperatures, including one person "presumed to be living homeless," per Public Health Seattle/King County.

Meanwhile, Lisa Daugaard, executive director of the Public Defender Association — one of the organizations involved in JustCare, a program that serves unsheltered residents — told Axios Seattle that during recent discussions about postponing services to an encampment amid the heatwave, outreach workers instead "urged that we continue to work this week … to offer better conditions to the people living there."

  • Daugaard noted that JustCare's sites have access to running water, clean bedding and air conditioning, and not all encampments do.
  • She added any "encampment displacement" that cannot put people into lodging "should be avoided except in unusually acute situations regardless of weather, as it just creates another unacceptable situation somewhere else, and deepens stress and trauma…"

Separately, Daniel Malone, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, said encampment "sweeps are inherently stressful and a disruption to life" that could be exacerbated "when they happen at the same time as another type of stressor, such as a heat wave."

Yes, but: Malone added he's been impressed by the opening of city and county cooling centers, and noted vulnerable people left isolated in stifling hot apartments and RVs could face even more danger than those living outside.


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