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Growing homeless camp on Seattle's Capitol Hill underscores citywide issue

Seattle mayoral candidate Colleen Echohawk calls the city's homeless situation a “humanitarian crisis.”

SEATTLE — Dozens of tents line Pendleton Miller Playfield and the adjacent Meany Middle School on Seattle's Capitol Hill. Neighbors say the homeless camp grew during the COVID-19 pandemic and spread even faster after the CHOP closed last summer.

“This isn’t a humane or healthy way for people to live,” said a longtime Capitol Hill resident who didn’t want to be identified.

Seattle mayoral candidate Colleen Echohawk calls the homeless situation a “humanitarian crisis.”

“We have to do something," said Echohawk. "We have to do better. We have a humanitarian crisis on our hands."

The longtime homeless advocate said the scene at Miller Playfield is just the tip of a larger, city-wide problem. She believes homelessness is the biggest issue facing Seattle.  

“We have a school opening in there soon, so something is going to have to happen there. It truly is a really messy place in the city right now," Echohawk said. "I hope the approach is humanitarian, kind and gets people into hotel rooms and then into permanent housing.”

The city reports there are no immediate plans to evict people living at Miller Playfield, but are working to address the issue. The city identifies it as one of many encampments across Seattle that they have deployed resources to,  adding that two of the city's contracted service providers have visited the encampment multiple times a week to offer services. The city said if residents of an encampment continually refuse outreach services, the city may be forced to evict them.  

A written statement from the office of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the city “has been using every federal dollar possible to move more people inside, and the Mayor spoke with the White House today to ask for additional resources. “

Mayor spokesperson Anthony Derrick continued, “When that is unsuccessful, the City must still address the broader public health and safety concerns, including making sure children can get to and from school, and believe all City Councilmembers, candidates for Mayor and the School Board should support this approach."

A mile away from Miller Playfield, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) held a ribbon-cutting to mark the opening of a new apartment building offering affordable housing to the homeless.

According to LIHI, each unit cost $240,000, with the City of Seattle’s Office of Housing providing $11 million in funding for the project.

“Today, 76 people of all races and nationalities begin the next step toward becoming productive members of our society in their own homes,” said Stephen LeBerth, a formerly homeless veteran.

If you are worried about the safety of an encampment, contact the City of Seattle’s Customer Service Bureau. If there is an immediate public safety threat, call 911.