SEATTLE - Homeless encampments in Seattle parks is not a new issue, but it’s one city residents say has gotten extraordinarily worse during the pandemic. Now community leaders are demanding city officials do something about it, immediately.
“There’s crap everywhere, it’s dangerous. It’s not a safe environment. Dogs used to run around at the park, I used to sunbathe and read a book. You can't do that anymore, so it's really sad,” said Ballard resident Gaby Guarneri.
Guarneri has lived across the street from Ballard Commons Park for 20 years. She said the city’s navigation team used to come clean up the park once a week, but since it was eliminated by the city council, nothing has been done about the growing homeless encampments.
“I feel bad because these are people also, but somebody needs to do something about it," said Guarneri.
“This is a public safety hazard with parks and public places across the city becoming incredibly volatile,” said Tim Gaydos.
Gaydos, the founder and chair of Friends of Denny Park, is one of many community leaders who signed a letter sent to Seattle City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan about the current state of city parks.
“A couple weeks ago, parks put up signs to say playgrounds are now open, because they had been closed this whole time during COVID, since March! And then they put up signs saying now they're open, and they did that here at Denny Park, but they’re completely unusable because we have dozens of needles in the playground at the bottom of slides,” said Gaydos.
He said action needs to be taken for the well-being of everyone.
“It's become a public safety hazard for the folks in the park, as well as the neighbors. And with the navigation team being dismantled, there’s really no tools in the toolbox to really help create a safe atmosphere here," Gaydos said.
As part of cutting down on SPD’s funding, Seattle City Council dismantled the department’s navigation team this summer. That team paired officers with outreach workers dealing with the city’s homeless population.
So what is the city doing about homeless outreach now that the navigation team is no more?
On Monday, the City Council passed a bill that puts over $2 million toward funding an eight-person unsheltered outreach and response team.
Mayor Durkan’s office said the city has taken the CDC’s advice during the pandemic to not remove homeless encampments, unless it poses a severe safety hazard. Her office said the focus continues to be on helping the get into housing and shelters
No members of the Seattle City Council talked to us for this story. Mayor Durkan’s office said the passing of the bill is a big first step to forming a coordinated citywide response to homelessness. She is also hoping the City Council will approve her pending proposal to open over 400 short-term shelter beds.