By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The controversial opening of the Navigation Center in the International District (ID) has galvanized Asian immigrant residents and business owners since last December. Presently, their two goals are fighting for the relocation of the Center and against the increasing crimes from the homeless in the neighborhood. The actions they took last week are slightly different from the past, though.
Located at 12th Avenue South, the Navigation Center provides service and 76 beds for the homeless. Despite the community’s opposition regarding the Center’s location in the ID, former mayor Ed Murray bought the property with little community input. By the time the Center’s location was announced, it was pretty much a done deal. Other neighborhoods have homeless troubles too, but they don’t have a navigation center. The city of Seattle has only one Navigation Center, and it’s in the ID, in addition to other homeless camps in the area.
During the week of Oct. 22, a petition of 950 signatures was collected in two days, to ask the city to relocate the Center.
ID community members not only met with city officials on Oct. 24. What was unusual was that on the following day, 30 immigrants attended a meeting at the Seattle Vocational Institute on South Jackson, supporting a tentative agreement between the City and the Seattle Police Officer Guild. In the past, immigrants have been afraid of getting connected with cops. The ID residents thought the meeting was about approving higher salaries for police officers.
The petition for Mayor Jenny Durkan, blaming Murray, said, “The problems started with the last mayor. We hope the problems will be solved by our present Honorable Mayor Jenny Durkan.” The petition also asked the city to implement a good policy to protect the ID. Crimes are “getting out of control,” according to the petition. The petitioners also asked for more police patrols at night, citing the high number of break-ins on South King Street during the summer.
“We are not opposing the Center,“ said Tim Lee, owner of Real Homes Network and one of the speakers at the community meeting with Senior Deputy Mayor Mike Fong and other city officials.
“We just want the Center to relocate somewhere like, in the industrial area. Industrial areas are empty at night and can be used for homeless sites. We don’t want to see the Center close down, we don’t want people to lose jobs.” Lee said the Center has attracted more homeless folks to the ID, causing public safety issues.
“It used to be one homeless person came here. Now they come in groups, frightening a lot of residents.”
From petty to scary crimes, the Northwest Asian Weekly interviewed residents about their encounters with the homeless. While outsiders have experienced panhandlers asking for money, insiders share with us disturbing crimes.
One incident was as recent as October. According to Yi Zhen Liang, a resident of 19 years, she greeted a community member, Mr. Wu, at 8th Avenue South and South Lane Street, while waiting for their kids’ school bus outside his apartment building. Seconds later, he was kidnapped by a homeless guy in his own car. While he was putting his son in a car seat and getting ready to pick up his daughter at another school, the homeless man got into his car. He told Mr. Wu to drive him to McDonald’s to get food. Mr. Wu offered the suspect $20 to get out of his car. The suspect refused. His neighbor thought it was weird that “there was a Black man sitting next to Mr. Wu,” who mouthed to him to call 911. Mr. Wu’s neighbor dialed Mr. Wu’s cell, and asked for his automobile license number. Then the neighbor called the police with that information. The suspect forced the victim to buy him fried chicken first. Later, when they arrived at McDonald’s, the cops came and arrested the suspect. We made attempts to contact Mr. Wu but we found out that he had returned to China.
Kam Tai Chun, a resident of over 20 years, said her husband was once a victim at the Danny Woo Garden. A homeless man approached him for money during his morning walk.
“He didn‘t carry any money with him, so the homeless guy got upset and punched my husband right in his eye,“ Chun
said. “He had a black eye for a long time.“
Chun said her husband still walks in the morning. When homeless folks come toward him for money, he pretends to not speak English and walks away quickly.
Liang also told the Asian Weekly recently, that she and four other friends were sitting at Hing Hay Park when a woman walked to her party, grabbed her package of fish bones, and ran. Half an hour later, the woman returned. She told Liang she sold the bones for $2 nearby so she could buy food. In retrospect, Liang laughed. But in that moment of being robbed, Liang said she felt fear, not humor.
Someone broke into Honey Court Restaurant last Monday at 4 a.m. Its cash register was stolen, along with $200. The machine was found later in an alley nearby. Damage to the broken door and other broken glass cost the restaurant over $1,000.
Lately, ID residents have witnessed what appears to be an organized robbery, one person does the robbing and a car parked nearby waits to pick up the robber.
Residents also complained about car prowls, and the mess created by urination and human feces. Garbage cans are often ploughed through, leaving trash on the ground. Liang said the homeless never clean it up, which attracts rats in the area.
Needles with blood and drugs have been found in grocery shopping carts and stores’ restrooms.
Mike Fong has attended many community meetings on the homeless issue. He said he understands that “people are frustrated… The city is trying out new things. The city is working on ([the issue].” He said that’s why the mayor has given $1.5 million to the ID to improve lighting and sidewalks.
“The Navigation Center is overwhelmed,” Fong said. The Navigation Center (with a staff of 24), and a separate navigation team (made up of police and social workers) are working together for solutions, he added. Fong is not specific about what kind of things the city is working on. It could be announced in the future.
When asked if she’s satisfied with the city’s response, Nora Chan, resident and founder of Seniors in Action, said, “No.”
She said the city has become quite good in handling the community’s complaints about the homeless.
Yan Ku, another resident said, “The ID is densely-populated, the community is small, low-key, and weak with many limited-English-speaking residents. We don’t speak up loud enough. We have been slighted many times. The city’s policy and plan towards the homeless is bad, allowing the homeless to stay anywhere they like. I’d like to ask the City Council members if they’d like to have a homeless encampment in their house or in their community?”
However, Liang, Chun, Ku, and Chan were firm in support for a police salary increase on Oct. 25, which was opposed by Seattle Community Police Commission (SCPC). About 100 people attended that meeting.
“SCPC didn’t allow them to speak,” said Lee. “SCPC just wanted to tell us what they think. They didn’t want any public comment.” The seniors just held their signs high during the meeting.
“The police have been doing a good job,” said Chan. “They haven’t had a raise for four years, a long time. I heard that the city is thinking about giving the money to the homeless. I’d rather they give it to the police.”
“Most of the cops work hard and face a lot of career pressures,” said Ku. “Many work in high-risk areas such as the ID.”
Liang echoed the other community members’ sentiments. “Things are so expensive in Seattle, they should get a raise,” she said.
Liang, an immigrant from China, and Chun, an immigrant from Hong Kong, said they felt their participation in the community’s well being was fulfilling.
Liang said, “I just want to do my part to better the community. I enjoy the freedom in America to express myself and be part of the democracy by speaking out for the community.”
“I was a housewife in Hong Kong,” Chun said. “Living in the U.S., I worked for six years and now retired. I feel joy and pain profoundly with my experiences here. I like it here,” even though some of her kids have returned to Hong Kong. “I like to help others and I want the community to be safe.”
“I think the police are trying to do the best they can with their limited amount of resources and lack of new recruits and no pay raises for four years,” said Lee.
Next year, 104 police officers will leave the Seattle Police Department — either to retire or look for other opportunities. We will be short of police staff, said Lee.
How will that affect the ID? That concern is on the minds of many ID residents, possibly affecting their sleep at night.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.