By Mahlon Meyer
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The Instagram posts were clear. Someone was going to come after Tanya Woo.
“Guess who’s coming to see you,” said one. Another commented on her body.
After a string of such posts, most of which used derogatory, racist, and threatening language, Woo stopped posting. She had been using her account to share information about rallies and protests.
Now, she turned directly to government officials. She and other advocates went to King County Council meetings, Seattle City Council meetings, and met with representatives from Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office.
But, in the end, she was met with disappointment.
Woo has been volunteering for a night patrol in the Chinatown-International District (CID) for three years. She and others hand out sandwiches, hot chocolate, and clothing. On Black Friday, she bought hundreds of hats and socks to give to people living in encampments.
“We don’t want to be doing this anymore,” she said. “We’re just filling a gap.”
She wants the city and the county to provide more services for the thousands of unhoused people living in and roaming through the CID.
She also thinks the city should provide support for businesses and residents of the CID who have been harmed by years of having more than a dozen homeless shelters in the area.
At a King County Council Budget and Fiscal Management Committee meeting on Nov. 8, Gary Lee, a member of another block watch and the CID Public Safety Council, handed out a map that showed there are 18 shelters within a one-mile radius of the CID, forming a virtual ring around the community. These shelters provide 1,773 beds.
Compared to the number of residents in the CID—there are 4,227—that means if you count only those who occupy beds, there is one unhoused person in the neighborhood for every two housed residents. That does not include the many hundreds on the streets or in encampments.
No one knows
Woo is not alone in facing danger.
The Instagram posts also targeted the community. They told residents to go back to China. Or they threatened to attack the community.
“Don’t worry, I’m going to give you people something to rally about soon enough,” said one.
Earlier articles in this newspaper have chronicled the daily violence faced by residents and businesses of the CID, not to mention the armed robberies, burglaries, and vandalism that have become routine and have created a mass exodus of businesses and restaurants.
They have also chronicled the widespread unease in the community with various iterations of Sound Transit’s plans to close down large parts of the neighborhood for up to a decade and flood it with construction and truck traffic.
But what also alarms advocates is that people outside the CID appear to be largely unaware of the violence that has become the norm inside their community.
“I ask people in Newcastle, and they say they haven’t heard anything about it,” said Lee.
Who will help the community?
In the end, community advocates including Woo asked the city for a small portion (5%) of its budget for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA). They also asked the county for an investment for the same purposes—to help the community cope with the onslaught of violence, help care for the unhoused, and provide security for businesses and residents.
In a series of emails, testimony, and meetings throughout October and November, they asked the county for $20 million and the city for $5 million for behavioral health services for the unhoused, for housing, and for public safety measures.
Evelyn Chow, staff member for Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales, on Oct. 18, said they were too late—the city had already decided on its budget.
But Woo shared an email written by community advocate Betty Lau sent earlier.
Morales responded to a question about the interchange in an email.
“The timeline for the budget process is determined by the budget chair, Councilmember [Teresa] Mosqueda, and our central staff. October 18th was the internal deadline to submit amendments for consideration to the mayor’s proposed budget, though our office works with community members year-round to prepare for budget asks,” said Morales in an email. “We missed Betty’s email because it ended up in our external inbox but look forward to continuing to work together this next year and beyond.”
Pleading out of Time
There were missteps along the way. At the King County Council budget meeting on Nov. 8, Councilmember Joe McDermott told Lau and others that public comments were allowed only on items on the agenda. Their request for funding was not.
“I’m willing to be lenient in public testimony if people are willing to be concise,” he said.
“Thank you, Councilmember McDermott, for this graciousness you’re showing us,” said Lau. “We did not understand what today’s topics are.”
In an emailed response to questions from this newspaper about an email he sent Woo and others about the final budget, McDermott said, ”Since you’ve seen an email I sent to some CID community members…, you know I deeply appreciate CID residents raising their voices and understand the deep historical trauma this community has experienced long before living through the deeply challenging previous few years. All the while, the CID remains a vibrant and resilient community.”
Now that the budgets have been passed, Woo and others are waiting for Morales, McDermott, and Harrell’s office to explain how certain items might apply to the CID.
“I’m disappointed,” said Woo.
McDermott, in the email to her and others, said he had added a $200,000 fund to support a community work group. He also said the CID would be able to apply for funding from a county-wide program, the Equitable Development Initiative, which had been allotted $35 million.
In his email, he emphasized other disadvantaged areas, such as White Center and Skyway, would be served by the program.
“These are wonderful communities that have, for decades and decades, been deeply unfunded and subject to the injustices of systemic racism that we must undo,” he said.
White Center is 41.9% white, 21% Asian, and 11.8% Black, the three largest racial groups. Skyway is 32.3% white, 27.91% Asian, and 22.6% Black, the three largest racial groups.
Public health vs. public safety?
In response to questions about public safety, Morales said she has “worked to address the root causes of poverty, mental illness, and crime.”
Part of her response addressed Seattle, as a whole.
“Our city is experiencing increased crime and community safety issues—as is every major city across the country.
That’s why my focus this budget cycle has been on real solutions that can prevent problems and work toward systemic changes that can build up community-based public safety responses in this city,” she wrote.
As for the CID, she said that each year, she had “secured funding to provide public health services such as street sinks and trash pickup at encampments, strengthen commercial and residential tenant protections, and improve our streets and sidewalks to ensure safety for all who use them.”
Woo and others wanted clarification from Morales about two “street outreach workers” apparently included in the budget.
Morales provided a link to a website maintained by REACH, which said it provides social workers who guide people living on the street to appropriate services. There were 14 job postings on the website, the earliest from August of last year, for positions ranging from “Recovery Program Case Manager” to “Street Outreach System Coordinator.”
Evergreen Treatment Services, which supports REACH, did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.
No security guards or insurance—for now
Several of the chief requests of the activists were not addressed. Businesses and residents had been hoping for security guards, for instance, as other parts of the city have adopted.
Morales said the council had fully funded hiring and recruitment for the Seattle Police Department (SPD).
“Their budget from the general fund, in total, is approximately $400 million, which is more per capita than 88% of city departments,” she said.
Requests for the city to provide insurance for businesses trapped in multi-year leases, but with no private insurance company willing to cover them, were also not addressed.
Morales said in her email, “I love this idea and want to see it implemented. I intend to start off 2023 by seeing how we can make this work for small businesses in the CID and across the south end that have been negatively impacted by private insurance companies. We have to work with our City Law Department, Central Staff Policy Analysts, as well as community members and small businesses to make sure that the program we put together is effective in meeting their needs, so this takes time to build up properly.”
Other items surprised community advocates, such as a “community investment fund” and “traffic calming measures.” Woo said she hoped Morales would clarify how those would help public safety in the CID.
Morales responded to the Northwest Asian Weekly that such a fund offers “a path to collective and communal ownership of real estate.” She said one of the organizations involved is Friends of Little Saigon.
Traffic calming measures cover Morales’ entire District 2, which she said sees over 50% of pedestrian and traffic fatalities in the whole city. District 2 includes Beacon Hill, Brighton, the CID (both 2 & 7), Columbia City, Dunlap, Genesee, Georgetown, Hillman City, Industrial District, Lakewood/Seward Park, Little Saigon (both 2 & 3), Lockmore, Mount Baker (both 2 & 3), New Holly, North Beacon Hill (both 2 & 3), Othello, Rainier Beach, Rainier Valley, Rainier View, Rainier Vista, SoDo, and South Beacon Hill.
Youth art center
Woo and others expressed confusion that Morales said she had supported $1 million for the development of King Street Station, which is on the outskirts of the CID, while implying patrons would spillover into the CID.
“We don’t understand how funding something outside the CID applies to the CID’s public safety,” said Woo.
In an email, Morales responded, “The funding for Station Space will support the development of an arts incubator for many BIPOC youth-serving organizations, such as Totem Star, Red Eagle Soaring, and the Rhapsody Project. This will bring more artists and young people into the neighborhood and support existing artists, while also hopefully supporting local businesses.”
None of the officials gave a clear timeframe for when they would meet with Woo and others to explain how their budget items could apply to the CID.
“I remain in contact and conversation with community leaders in the CID and am committed to doing what I can at the county to support and encourage the relevant jurisdictions and organizations to convene and work together towards what might be called a community safety plan,” said McDermott.
Said Morales, “Our office has already been meeting with many CID community members and intends to continue doing so.”
Behind all this is the specter of the fatal shooting of Donnie Chin, the director of the International District Emergency Center, on July 23, 2015. Brien Chow, chair of the Outreach Committee of the Chong Wa Benevolent Association, recently bemoaned the loss of the community’s guardian angel. Woo and other members of the block patrols say they are careful to steer clear of conflict, although they cannot deny there is risk.
Data from the SPD shows there have been seven homicides in the CID in 2022. There are nearly nightly shootings.
And anti-Asian hate crimes continue to surge in Seattle and around the country. As of September, the latest data available, there had been 643 hate or bias crimes in Seattle. In other major cities, there was a comparable increase.
In San Francisco, last year, anti-AAPI hate crimes rose by 567%.
Addressing hate crimes
Harrell’s proposed budget cut services for anti-Asian hate crimes, but the mayor said an increase in funding for the SPD was what the AAPI community wanted.
“Mayor Harrell’s priorities in the proposed budget are directly informed by the feedback we’ve received from community members in the CID,” said Jamie Housen, director of communications for the mayor’s office. “These priorities include public safety, hiring officers to swiftly respond to and investigate crimes, and funding community-based solutions; sustainable homelessness action, helping move people indoors while keeping sidewalks, parks, and public spaces open and accessible to all; and essential city services, like supporting small businesses and cleaning up trash.”
Housen mentioned the Unified Care Team that connects unhoused people with services.
“That work—including regular meetings and engagement—will continue as Mayor Harrell is strongly committed to a thriving Chinatown-International District.”
Morales said she successfully brought forth amendments “that fully restored Anti-Asian hate funding ($166,000, for a total of $333,000) as well as funding for a gap in homelessness services for the KCRHA ($600,000).”
In the end, Woo and others say that the solutions offered mostly leave them out in the cold.
“We asked for public safety, but are we getting it? I am not sure,” said Woo. “McDermott and Morales said some great things, but I am disappointed because a lot of the things community members have asked for didn’t make it. What they proposed does not seem community-based, it’s top down.”
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.