'We are not trying to displace anyone'; Mayor Harrell fields criticisms of homeless sweeps during heat wave

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell faced criticism Wednesday as the city continues to tear down homeless camps during the current heat wave.

An encampment on Third Avenue in the SODO district, which once had 20 RVs, was cleared on Tuesday.

City Councilmember Tammy Morales called the removal "a continued failure of our city's response to addressing the root causes of homelessness."

"Being swept is challenging enough without the added stressor of the scorching temperature" said Morales, arguing that adequate services must be provided, "before the City displaces them, especially during dangerous weather events." 

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA), the new agency that places unsheltered people into some form of temporary or permanent housing, opposed the forced removal.

"The Regional Homelessness Authority does not support displacement," said spokesperson Anne Martens. "We work with partners to resolve an encampment resolution; that means every person has an opportunity to come inside with dignity."

At a news conference announcing his nomination of a new Department of Transportation director, Harrell said he is not "displacing" people in the heat wave.

"We are not trying to sweep or displace anyone, we are trying to treat and house people, and we will continue to do that with the resources we have," said Harrell. "It’s too hot for people to live in some of these conditions."

Lux is one of many living in an RV on the street, and she arranged for her RV to be towed by a friend three blocks away before the removal began.

"It does suck to see them come with, like, big dumpsters, just throwing everything away," said Lux. "As much as a lot of it is trash, it still sucks to see it torn apart as if it means nothing."

Lux is 19 years old and has been leaving on the streets of Seattle since she was 15. She shares an RV with a friend.

"I have seen them remove people almost like clockwork," said Lux.

Over the last several months, without any fanfare, the Harrell administration has been clearing tent and RV camps two to three times a week.

When asked by FOX 13 News if his administration will continue with that schedule, amid the criticism and high heat, he intimated it would.

"Our administration is getting praised for the work of getting people out of this heat wave into cooling centers, into treatment and housing; that's what we are doing," said Harrell. "We are doing in a very compassionate and human approach."

We spoke with one person who was offered a place at a tiny house village, and two others who never received offers of housing. All three had been staying at the Third Avenue RV camp before it was cleared.

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Lux said she never received a direct offer of housing from outreach workers.

"It wasn't like, ‘Hey would you like to get housing?’" said Lux. "I haven’t heard anything like that from them."

Joe Ingram of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness routinely provides outreach to people living in vehicles, but does not have permission from the KCRHA or the city to offer any housing.

"The mayor and his administration have declared war on people living in vehicles; relentless, unforgiving and they don't care," said Ingram.

The city has scheduled another RV camp removal in the city’s Eastlake neighborhood on Thursday.