Complaints skyrocket over homeless camps in Seattle, leading thousands to sign petition aimed at council member

SEATTLE -- There are about 400 unauthorized homeless encampments in the city of Seattle. Since 2012, the number of complaints have skyrocketed.

Since January, residents have called the city's customer service line to complain about unsanctioned camping nearly 3,300 times.

Despite all those concerns, the city does not prioritize removal of camps based on how loudly a neighborhood complains.

The city has a criteria for removal and much of it comes down to how much trash and human feces accumulate and how close encampments are to moving cars.

Crime is also a criteria, but the city says there has to be documented proof that a crime happened so 911 calls alone are not enough.

Homeowners say the inaction of the city makes them feel ignored and now there is a surge of anger in the community that wasn’t there before.

“It makes me sad for my community, communities are absolutely destroyed, there are needles and fecal matter,” Erika Nagy said.

Nagy is a lifelong Seattle resident and mom.

She’s reached the boiling point.

“What you are seeing here is an uprising of everyday folks who work 9 to 5. I think people are outraged of what has been done to our city in the hands of this council,” Nagy said.

This week that outrage is on full display at a town hall in Ballard, where homeowners demanded to ask questions of City Council member Mike O’Brien.

They also pitched tents outside the town hall meeting and made signs calling for O’Brien’s impeachment.

Now there is a growing petition with nearly 2,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon asking for O’Brien to listen.

“If you don’t agree with what he says, oftentimes you get shut off real quick,” Nagy said.


Q13 News managed to question O'Brien on Wednesday.

“We have 4,000 people outside, it’s growing every day because of the income-inequality, because housing cost is going up faster than anywhere else in the nation,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien says there is simply nowhere for campers to go.

“I don’t have a place to put those people right now,” O’Brien said.

So now city leaders want to pass an employee head tax on big companies like Amazon to raise money to build affordable housing.

It’s a controversial idea that ignited a protest during City Council member Kshama Sawant’s press conference on Thursday, when nearby construction workers chanted, “No head tax!"

“Can’t do this with less money -- we need more resources,” O’Brien said.

“He’s saying what I am supposed to do, I have no idea what I am doing here but I want more money. He wonders why we are frustrated. Frankly, we’ve spent $200 million in the last couple of years on this issue, it’s only gotten worse,” Nagy said.

Nagy blames mismanagement of those funds by the City Council.

If the employee  tax passes and Sawant gets her amendment to the proposal approved, none of the money raised can go toward removing encampments.

“It’s a one-way ticket to hell for Seattle (with) the way they are writing all of this, it’s a one way ticket to hell,” Nagy said.

Nagy says she and others are compassionate toward the homeless crisis and support assistance.

But Nagy says it’s no longer just a homeless issue, but a concern about lawlessness and crime.

“You have a subset of individuals here that know they can do whatever they want, whenever they want,” Nagy said.

The city’s navigation team, the ones responsible for outreach, says the reason why it takes a long time to remove encampments deemed unsafe is because it takes a lot of resources to reach out to people and clean up the encampment sites.

The navigation team says they are making progress.

Last year, about 675 people, or 36% of the people they reached out to, accepted safer shelter.

In 2016, the number was in the single digits.