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District won't clear encampment near north Seattle school before students return

The encampment near Broadview Thomson K-8 has outraged neighbors, parents and teachers over the summer.

SEATTLE — A controversial homeless encampment outside Broadview-Thomson K-8 in the north Seattle neighborhood of Bitter Lake will still be there when students head back to class next week.

The camp is located on Seattle Public Schools (SPS) property near the school and Bitter Lake Playfield, evoking outrage from neighbors, park goers, parents and teachers.

SPS Deputy Superintendent Rob Gannon released a statement Friday morning, saying in part, “The partnership between Seattle Public Schools and Anything Helps continues, and will continue beyond the start of the school year. Because of the complexity of the operation, we are shifting our anticipated date of camp removal to sometime after the school year begins.”

In June, the camp was estimated to have about 40 tents.

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Following months of back and forth between SPS and the city of Seattle, the situation quickly turned into finger-pointing between the two organizations, with the city claiming the school district wasn’t asking for help.

The camp was even used by mayoral candidates as an example of the inefficacy of the mayor’s office and lack of leadership.

Meanwhile, the responsibility of removing the camp has fallen firmly in the lap of SPS, which has partnered with the new organization Anything Helps to provide outreach to those living in the camp.

“The camp is unauthorized and unsanctioned and we are firm in our commitment to completely remove the encampment. But it is important to note that the pace of this removal operation is directly tied to the time it takes to fully providing service and support to those experiencing homelessness,” said Gannon.

City officials have been hesitant to conduct a sweep of the encampment, recognizing it would likely serve to only displace those in the camp to other areas in the community, including the adjacent Bitter Lake Playfield.

Gannon did not provide a deadline for when the community can expect the camp to be cleared, but said Mike Mathias, the head of Anything Helps, “has done extraordinary work in assisting campers with organizing and preparing for a future that allows them to leave the cycle of homelessness, and we are grateful for his commitment to continue doing so until our goal is reached.”   

According to the Anything Helps website, the nonprofit works to empower campers to hold one another accountable for their recovery. Calling the city’s homelessness response “linear and shallow,” the nonprofit looks to leverage a Zillow-hosted service called Housing Connector to connect campers to permanent housing options.

Meanwhile, SPS held another community meeting with Bitter Lake residents and Broadview Thomson parents Thursday and said fencing, gating and security at the school have been modified in response to the encampment. 

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