The City conducted another SODO sweep Thursday morning on 3rd Avenue and Holgate Street ahead of the long-anticipated All-Star baseball game at T-Mobile Park next week. For weeks, mutual aid organizers have sounded the alarm about the City pushing out unhoused people to free up parking and to impress the 100,000 people projected to visit Seattle during the games. They argue the recent removals clearly demonstrate what they have known all along: The City sweeps unhoused people for cosmetic purposes and not as a legitimate strategy for solving homelessness or for bringing people inside.
Mayor Bruce Harrell's office denied any connection between the sweeps and the All-Star game. A spokesperson said the Unified Care Team uses an “objective prioritization matrix" to help determine the encampments that most urgently need our attention.” That “objective prioritization matrix” includes meetings to discuss factors such as shelter availability, public safety concerns, and pedestrian access. The spokesperson added that the City has focused on SODO for more than a year due to a high concentration of RVs and tents.
Sure, the City shoos SODO RVs a bunch, but, according to outreach sweep schedules, the City conducted two removals in SODO in June and five in May; compare that to four sweeps scheduled in the first week of July. And unhoused people, nonprofit outreach, mutual aid groups, We Heart Seattle, and even conservative talking head Jason Rantz agree that the City’s choice to enforce new “No Parking” signs very obviously aims to push RVs and tents out of sight for the tourists coming to watch the baseball game.
One RV resident claimed that he and others who the City kicked out during its four SODO sweeps this week received instruction to stay south of Lander Street, about a mile from the stadium.
According to a map from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), the City started to enforce “No Parking” signs on blocks between S. Lander and T-Mobile Park. Those signs covered four SODO blocks on June 12, six blocks on July 6, and will include 18 more blocks on July 7. All of these temporary parking bans will end the day of or the day before the All-Star game on Tuesday.
“It's like when you have friends over and you clean up your house,” Andrea Suarez of We Heart Seattle said, praising volunteer and City-funded clean-up efforts. She clarified that she does not mean to say that unhoused people are garbage that Seattle needs to throw away. She sees sweeps as mutually beneficial for the City and for those who the City uproots. The City gets clean streets to impress tourists, and the residents get a “fresh start.”
The unhoused people who spoke with The Stranger did not see the sweep as an equal trade or a “fresh start” but rather as a setback in finding stability. One man blamed routine removals for his poor living conditions. He is unable to keep his RV clean because of how often he has to pack up his life and move elsewhere, he said. He’s taken to keeping his outdoor stuff in his RV, leaving him no room to lie down and sleep.
Besides, few shelter options exist for unhoused people and zero for those who live in RVs. At the time of Thursday’s sweep, the HOPE team could refer people to 16 beds–three at a women-only congregate shelter, four at a co-ed congregate shelter, and nine at men’s shelters with semi-private cubicles and rooms. The Mayor’s Office said outreach “engaged” with 24 people at the 3rd and Holgate site over the last “several days,” and seven people accepted referrals to shelter.
Outreach workers allowed RV residents to sign up for the initial round of interviews to score one of the 26 spots at the new safe lot set to open next month, but for now there is nowhere they can park for more than 72 hours at a time, and very few places in SODO are free of “No Parking” signs or concrete blocks.
“It’s extremely fucked up,” said Butch, another man who lives in his RV in SODO. “They’re just sweeping us under the rug instead of dealing with us.”
Butch directed his anger toward Mayor Bruce Harrell, who he said “cares more about baseball than the homeless.”
Harrell often denies the fact that the City sweeps encampments, claiming rather that his administration “houses” people. Even in the City’s most humane sweeps, several outreach workers told The Stranger that they do not shelter–let alone house–even every long-term encampment residents. According to Real Change, public records show that the Mayor authorized more than 900 encampment removals last year, hundreds of which were conducted without notice or outreach.
Others seem to share Butch’s sentiment. A KOMO reporter posted a picture of a flyer advertising an RV park-in. After the parking ban ends, the flyer calls for RV owners to drive back and fill the areas that the City swept. One unhoused person confirmed they are leading the action. Nevertheless, the recent media attention may prompt City intervention, or at least discourage participation.
"Let's make sure their work was for nothing"— Jeremy Harris (@JeremyHarrisTV) July 5, 2023
RV encampments have been ordered to leave SoDo in preparation for the All-Star game. I went to an encampment there yesterday and a guy gave me this flyer that he says a group came around passing out. https://t.co/loeXjwKM0h @komonews pic.twitter.com/Odo7vevaq1