City awaits camp on school grounds after sweeping nearby park

A forest of angry hands rises in the Broadview-Thomson K-8 School cafeteria.

By Erica C. Barnett

During one often noisy public forum In the Broadview-Thomson K-8 School cafeteria, Seattle Public Schools Assistant Director Rob Gannon said last week the school district was slowly working to a plan to remove more than 50 unprotected people from property in the school district behind North Seattle School. The City of Seattle has refused to help the school district accommodate or house the people living on the property, and the district has turned to a small nonprofit called Anything Helps. agile, with the aim of removing everyone from the site by September.

“We are in a difficult position and… with a fairly large warehouse and no means to clarify how this area can be returned to its original purpose or how to respond to the needs of the people who live on this property “Said Gannon said. “For the past two months we’ve been actively looking for partners to help us cope with this situation, and only recently have we started helping people get off this property.”

Emails from city officials indicate that the city knew that if the city forced them to leave the park, people from nearby Bitter Lake Playfield, which was previously a small camp, would move to the school grounds.

Although the school district property is directly adjacent to the city’s Bitter Lake Playfield and historically maintained by the Parks Department, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Seattle bears no responsibility for the camp as it is not on the city property. In May, Durkan suggested that if the chronically underfunded district wants the camp to go away, it should “get up” its own system of human services.

Durkan has repeatedly pointed out that the people who live behind the elementary school made a conscious choice to move away from property in the city and therefore chose not to help the city anymore. But emails from city officials obtained through a file request show that the city knew that if the city so called, people from nearby Bitter Lake Playfield, which used to be a small camp, would move to the school grounds would force you to leave the park.

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For example, in an email dated July 8, 2020, a recreation specialist from the municipal park administration told a school facility employee that the department was removing and replacing the lights in the park and asking “several campers in the area” to move “during construction . “These” campers “, wrote the park employee, “Can move elsewhere or around the SW corner of [Bitter Lake Lake which I understand is SPS property with Broadview Thompson [sic] School up the hill to the west. We never know what we will get when we move your ‘house’. “

Liza Rankin, North Seattle School Principal, said, “When you see these messages from a year ago, it’s really frustrating to know that there would have been a quick and appropriate response instead of sweeping people out of the park at this point – To offer services ”. or shelter or just an alternative location – the whole thing could have been avoided. “

After the city told the residents of the field of play to leave, they did exactly what the city had predicted and pitched their tents in the school district property a few yards away. “As we’ve seen where other camps have sprung up, it’s not by chance,” said Rankin. “People pitch tents where there is a community center nearby, where there is transportation nearby, where there are other resources.” If the camp behind the school had reacted when it was little, Rankin continued, “I think there would still be a camp on Bitter Lake – I just think it would probably be at the community center” rather than next to the school.

After people moved their tents from the park to the area behind the school, the camp began to grow – and residents began writing to the school district asking them to remove it. District officials then asked the mayor what to do. Your Answer: Ask the Seattle Police Department. Answer of the SPD: Ask the mayor’s office or the personnel department. Last year, in response to the city council’s budget move to disband the warehouse-sweeping navigation team, HSD stopped actively removing warehouses and turned that responsibility over to Parks. And, of course, Parks said they have no control over the county property.

While the city officials were spending the money, the camp continued to grow. And BBy May Durkan’s position had hardened: if the school district wanted to abandon the camp, they were on their own. “The school district needs to take action and we are here to help and support them, but they cannot shirk their school ownership obligations, ”Durkan said on May 27th. The district as “a multi-billion dollar organization with funds” and resources “should be able to” maintain its own process “to support and move camp residents, she added.

Rankin, who was the target of significant vitriol at the public forum last week, said she found it “frustrating and disappointing to see school district staff responding and proactively trying to work with the city and achieve nothing”.

PubliCola sent several questions to the Parks Department and Durkan’s office about their reasons for not bringing up the camp behind Broadview-Thomson last year. Parks only answered one of our on-record questions and confirmed that the department did not tell people to move their tents into school grounds, but knew it was a possibility.

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