Sweeps and the Mayor’s violent assault on houseless people
With weeks of encampment sweeps and more quickly approaching, Little Saigon and the CID are still reeling from the shockwaves in what has felt like bulldozers repeatedly crushing homes with people still inside. But in our city, the bulldozers are made of city workers, dump trucks, and police. This is the vision for “One Seattle”. It’s the new business as usual for Mayor Bruce Harrell.
For some of the people who choose to remain until the very end, we can liken the situation to those who hold out during a hurricane, flood, or another natural disaster. Many people do not want to leave their homes, their possessions, or the communities they’ve built behind. So some stay, as we hold out that something will be different this time.
As mutual aid organizers, our goal is to see to it that people’s basic needs are met, and reduce harm in the face of harm – for people housed or unhoused. This means centering everyone’s agency and dignity, respecting consent, and connecting people to care and healing as best as we can. We write the following accounts of two encampment removals and to share the reality of sweeps: these are traumatic and violent events that exacerbate already dangerous conditions for our displaced community members, and the neighborhood as a whole.
March 17th – Chinatown-International District – Jackson St
On March 17th, cars packed full of sandwiches, coffee, sleeping bags, and tents, we arrived early in the morning to support those being displaced from Jackson St. underneath I-5. At that point, many encampment residents asked for shelter and housing, yet there was little to none, as the City’s lone outreach worker for the day was nowhere to be found before the sweep commenced. Over fifty police and Parks and Recreation workers arrived.
By 9am, residents were greeted by the sounds of tugging and tearing at their walls. Police and Parks and Recreation workers crowded around the outside of their homes.
Aware of the workers gathering to remove them, a crowd of residents lined up around the City’s navigator with the HOPE Team, torn between trying to understand their options for shelter, or packing their belongings before teardown. One resident, Uncle Joe, was eligible and holding out for long-term housing, but still sits on a waitlist.
With no interpreters for the Chinese and Vietnamese-speaking residents living on the block, the City provided no opportunity for these residents to understand their options for relocation and housing.
Before people could fully move, the police, using the threat of arrest and force with bicycles, pushed organizers and residents out for Parks and Recreation workers to clear the neighborhood – people included.
March 25th – Little Saigon – Dearborn St
Just eight days later, the City swept the neighborhood again. This time, it was much bigger. A self-organized community from all backgrounds tucked themselves away on a hill off of Dearborn Street. Residents in the camp said they were shocked by the news of the sweep and how little time they had to prepare. Once called Nickelsville and Camp Dearborn, this camp has a long history as a home and community to many people. Although the City used incidents of conflicts and violence within the camp to justify the sweeps, some residents expressed that they simply wanted people causing violence to stop coming into the space. They did not want to be pushed out of their homes as a response to these incidents.
On the day of removal, again, mutual aid organizers provided food, supplies, and helped residents pack up their things while the police ordered everyone to clear out immediately. The workers had brought a crane to assist in their teardown.
And again, no interpreters arrived. As a result, a resident who exclusively spoke Vietnamese thought the police and workers arriving were there at 10am to help him. Instead they were there to remove him. Organizers were able to interpret for at least one elder at the Navigation Center.
In first hand experiences, Drug Use Solidarity Team, or DUST, are a collective of people with lived experience of drug use and living in the encampment. DUST expressed their desire for people to understand drug users, and their lives and needs, instead of othering them, distancing them, and turning to their removal as an answer. They challenged how people are often labeled as perpetrators of harm or criminals just because they do not have a home or use drugs. They emphasized the multiplicity of unhoused and drug user communities, expressing the strengths – wisdom, perseverance, and an ability to heal, as well as the complex parts – that like with any community, there are real possibilities of conflict and violence. As survivors, they wanted to talk openly about their experiences in drug use, and to share lessons learned to help themselves and others, without stigma.
Many displaced residents are still dealing with the impacts of the sweeps. From our friends who lived on that hill, we know that the real trauma comes after a sweep, not in the moment of the sweep. What was destroyed on this day wasn’t a place where individuals lived separately or in isolation – just like any tight-knit neighborhood – it was a supportive and complex community built on self-organization, interdependence, and love.
A Call to Action
Ultimately, the sweeps are an order from the Mayor’s Office and that is who we need to be holding responsible for this harm and violence on our community members. Demand an end to harm, inhumanity, and dehumanization from Mayor Bruce Harrell. Demand an end to sweeps for our community members.
We cannot expect people experiencing homelessness to accept offers of service or treatment without also offering stable places to live first and foremost. We need permanently affordable housing solutions now, ones that don’t seek to further isolate, confine, or control those living outside, but rather provide spaces that allow people to sustain their relationships and communities, increase their own safety, and live according to their own principles.
In light of worsening conditions for people in Little Saigon and the Chinatown-International District. Our community coalition requests Seattle officials to stop targeting our neighborhood through the criminalization of poverty and encampment sweeps under the guise of public safety. We will send our requests to the Seattle Mayor and Councilmembers.
The requests include placing a moratorium on sweeps and redirecting funding into these areas:
• Maintaining sanitation and safety at current encampment sites
• Funding and resourcing community-based responses to public safety
• Long term housing options to mitigate the housing crisis
Read our letter with full details of our requests:
Sign the petition:
Visit our website to read full details of our requests:
Support the Solidarity Budget
Nikki Chau contributed to this article.
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