“It seems like the city [of Seattle] only comes to Chinatown when they need to use us and pit us against other disenfranchised communities.” That was the testimony of Sonny Nguyen from API Food Fight Club at a Sept. 6 Seattle City Council meeting to consider a homeless ordinance that could drastically change how the city handles homeless encampments.
It certainly feels that way. Even after a large contingent of representatives from the International District (ID) packed City Council chambers and gave testimony after testimony, our pleas fell on deaf ears.
Sponsored by council members Rob Johnson, Lisa Herbold, and Kshama Sawant, the council voted in favor of taking in the proposed “30-day” legislation and running it through its committees. The proposal would require the city to wait 30 days before doing a sweep. Currently, the city provides a 72-hour notice to people in the encampments before removing them.
During public comments, Sue-May Eng, instructor of the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill Team, said, “We have firsthand knowledge of how fast encampments can grow and the amount of … hazardous waste, such as garbage, urine, feces, used condoms, and used hypodermic needles, that can accumulate in 30 days.”
The ordinance was created by private-interest groups, including the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services. It’s easy to write an ordinance from an ivory tower, away from the problem you are trying to solve.
Some may accuse the ID of being NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard). We understand and appreciate that the homeless are humans, that they have rights, and that they are in need of compassion. We have rights, too … to live and work in a safe and clean environment. We challenge the folks at the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services to live within sight of a homeless encampment for 30 days. To step outside for a daily walk and see a pile of trash on the street grow bigger every day. To witness the elderly, perhaps your own parent, getting harassed repeatedly by panhandlers. To see young children walking around hypodermic needles carelessly thrown about. To hear from customers who won’t patronize your business anymore because of the filth and safety concerns. To struggle even more to meet payroll for your small business because money is now tighter than ever. To watch the blood, sweat, and tears, possibly life savings you’ve poured into your business, go for naught.
Yes, it’s easy to write laws from the comfort and safety of your ivory tower, where the problem you are trying to solve isn’t staring you in the face every day and does not have a direct impact on your business, your safety, your life.
Tim Burgess, the only dissenting vote, said, “This [ordinance] would give a new right to camp on public property, makes encampment removal nearly impossible.”
An Aug. 31 memo to the city council from various city departments, including Seattle Police, the Human Services Department, and the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, also pleaded with the council not to pass the ACLU backed ordinance. It said the legislation “would authorize camping throughout the City of Seattle” and would “allow tents to stay on school property, interfere with transit, and encourage conditions that foster criminal activity.”
How many more voices need to join ours before our concerns are addressed?
Does somebody have to be assaulted or killed in a headline-making fashion on the streets of the ID, for us to get noticed?
At the moment, it certainly feels like Chinatown is being used. And forgotten.