By Matt Chan
I rode my bike to the Chinatown-International District (CID) on Labor Day. I usually go to the CID at least twice a week, but on what was a beautiful day, I found the neighborhood bustling and busy, but it was different. The sheer number of unhoused people intertwined with residents, visitors, and people who conduct business in the CID was stunning.
It isn’t uncommon to see the unhoused congregating under and around I-5 that divides our neighborhood, or around the Navigation Center in Little Saigon, or around the other four facilities that service the unhoused. What was shocking was the sheer numbers of unhoused people doing drugs, sleeping in doorways, or just wandering the streets in every area of the neighborhood. In fact, I noticed that a tent had taken over the exercise equipment in Hing Hay Park to construct a living space. The smell of garbage was palpable on this warm, late summer day as people all went about their business as if this were normal.
This is not normal.
Would it be normal in Laurelhurst, Magnolia, Madison Park, or Wallingford?
So why us?
Why does the CID get no respect from the local government? The latest indignity is a team effort by King County, City of Seattle, and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to build a “Mega-Shelter” facility, one block from the CID next to the Historic Immigration Building. The complex would bring 500 more residents to a shelter/RV/Tiny Homes facility in a neighborhood that already has five homeless facilities. All of this was done with little to no outreach to the community for input.
I do feel for the unhoused people in Seattle, they deserve better. What I witnessed in the CID is a systemic failure of government to solve our city’s most pressing need. To not only address the root cause of homelessness, but to keep the unhoused and the neighborhoods they end up in safe from those that prey on them, drug dealers, career criminals.
So why us? Why does the CID always have to bear the weight of governmental dysfunction? Time and time again, our history is tied to municipal malfeasance, be it Sound Transit, I-5 splitting the neighborhood, enforcing building codes on a community with no ability to pay for upgrades or help from the city, or placing a Navigation Center in one of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the city without community input. The CID is the last truly ethnic neighborhood in Seattle and the cultural home for Asian Americans in the region.
Where are the elected leaders who are quick to campaign and use the CID for photo ops, but disappear when we need the help they promised us? The mayor did clean up 12th and Jackson, but did not solve the problem, it only moved to other locations in the CID. Now the problem of the unhoused over running the neighborhood and the problems of mental health, crime and drug addiction are systemic, normalized and wholly unacceptable. Where are King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell when the CID desperately needs help? They are busy building a new homeless facility in our neighborhood without community input or assurances to provide adequate care to mitigate the harm this will cause to the unhoused and well as the residents and CID community.
The answer to, “Why Us?” is simple, systemic racism that this neighborhood has always been subjected to. When do we have a say? Apparently never.