Last night began with a trip through parts of Seattle known last year to have unsheltered people individually and in groups throughout downtown, Ballard, Capitol Hill, and the U District — with few people to be found this time. Mayor Jenny Durkan’s crack down on homelessness, with equal part sweeps and police harassment, seems to have removed most unsheltered people out of sight to the benefit of NIMBYs and businesses including Amazon. The city has declared a symbolic ceasefire on all harassment of houseless neighbors with public transit and rewarming areas set up to keep people from hypothermia.
The search began in the usual areas around Pioneer Square. As we drove past the light rail station we caught a glimpse of a houseless Black man having a mental health crisis and three cops attempting to take him to the ground. We circled back around to get closer but the call went out to an army of cops with at least 15 police cruisers responding and dog-piling on the poor soul to subdue him. We couldn’t get close so we kept moving. Apparently the ceasefire doesn’t extend to those in crisis who can’t obey and follow orders.
As we pushed further north into Belltown and then north Capitol Hill we noticed any area of refuge fenced off, sometimes topped with barbed wire, police patrolling the city block by block, and private security sitting inside idling cars outside of areas previously teeming with people living outside. We stumbled upon our first encampment in Ballard where a handful of tents and makeshift lean-tos lined the street. We could only find one person home who was trying to keep warm in a basic summer tent. He asked for blankets or a sleeping bag and was more than gracious to take a sleeping bag and some hand warmers off of us. He said his neighbors usually scrape whatever money they have together to go to a local bar to stay warm until closing time, sipping slowly on the cheapest drinks possible. They were not home as suspected but he also pointed us to a larger encampment a few blocks away.
This encampment was outside of a city building with approximately fifteen people sleeping in quite rough conditions. As we stepped outside of the vehicle, the wind hit my cheeks and they instantly stung, glowing red and burning along with my nose and fingers for a few hours afterwards. The temperature on my cell phone read in the 30s but it felt much colder with the wind chill factor. One man was sleeping in a doorway, not wearing any shoes because his were soaked, covered like a mummy in a thin blanket and wearing only a jacket. He was appreciative of the sleeping bag, foot and hand warmers we left for him, along with thick socks.
The other campers noticed us grabbing supplies from the back of the car and came up to us to see if we had what they needed. Many of the neighbors sleeping outside were without tents and asked us if we had any. We lamented that we did not but if we came across any we would bring some by. One man slept unsheltered sitting up in a discarded office chair with only a thick coat separating him from the cold wind. He said that this was the coldest he had ever felt in his whole life. He and his friends took all of the blankets off of our hands and were happy to take the rest of the sleeping bags and gloves we had. We passed out snacks, water, and other cold weather gear. Some of the campers told us that the police had arrested them last week and had confiscated all of their cold weather gear so they were basically starting from scratch. Even if city sanctioned sweeps are not happening the police continue to take the few possessions houseless people have which are the only things keeping them keep them from freezing to death. We were sad to hear that these heartless little fascists are continuing to sweep encampments in Tacoma.
As we made our rounds to other encampments in Ballard and the U District, the most common ask was for sleeping bags, tents, blankets, and gloves, all of which we did not have. Many houseless people are in dire need of tents. Before the cold even set in they were clear that everyone was in need of tents. Rats chew through the tents, they break with wear, the DOT and police steal them, wind gusts rip holes in them, and now the snow is collapsing them as well.
For emphasis here is a list of the most desperately needed supplies:
- Sleeping bags
We are eternally grateful to the beautiful souls who have overflowed the collection bins with good cold weather gear and it has gone or will go to a good place. If you have any of the above mentioned gear it would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to forward this to any local outdoor gear retailers and manufacturers because we will happily repair any returned, defective, or otherwise unsellable gear to put it to good use. However, we are not counting on capital to meet the needs of the people. We count on each other and the ongoing survival of our houseless neighbors will only happen if we continue coming together in solidarity.
To reiterate, below are the drop off points for cold weather gear collections:
South East Seattle – Cafe Red: https://www.facebook.com/events/869719956814776/
Downtown Seattle – Left Bank Books: https://www.facebook.com/events/3058600441033568/
Downtown Seattle – Plymouth Church: https://www.facebook.com/events/815691758870157/
Capitol Hill – Pacific Supply Co.: https://www.facebook.com/events/2582826815340355/
Northwest Seattle – Flying Bike: https://www.facebook.com/events/2585105795093548/
Northeast Seattle – U District Food bank: https://www.facebook.com/events/2513215485558389/
Magnolia – Dive Alert: https://www.facebook.com/events/869242876840151/