By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
West Seattle has no full-time homeless shelters. It has one city-sanctioned tiny-house encampment, usually at capacity with about 50 residents. Just about everyone else living unhoused in West Seattle is in a tent, or a vehicle, or maybe a doorway.
Right now, one group of tent residents on a South Delridge business-district sidewalk has been drawing increasing attention.
The site has grown steadily over this spring, starting on the east side of the building on the northwest corner of Delridge/Roxbury, now extending onto the sidewalk outside businesses on the north half of the block, more than a dozen tents in all, covering most of the sidewalk all the way to the curb.
The sidewalk blockage has been discussed at various community meetings on both sides of the West Seattle/White Center line. Then this week, one of the adjacent businesses’ owners, Abby Fisher of White Center Glass, said her longtime low-key view of the situation ended when a tent resident set up on the sidewalk in front of her business. So on Thursday, she sent city agencies this letter, and also sent it to us:
I am requesting that the homeless encampments (tents, garbage, belongings) be removed from the 9400 block of Delridge Way SW.
There are numerous businesses that are being negatively affected by the presence of this encampment. I will speak specifically to my business.
I am the owner of White Center Glass and this business has been an anchor in the neighborhood since 1965. Walk-in or Will Call customers are a huge component of our business. I am losing revenue daily because my customers do not feel safe wading through garbage, human waste and belongings to reach my door.
There have been numerous requests by other businesses in the neighborhood to get this taken care of with little to no response.
I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for the individuals who are forced to live outside of what most would consider a “normal” circumstance. I can support endeavors to provide for people who are in need. I can tolerate an inconvenience to my business and employees. I will not allow the city’s lack of action to interrupt my ability to provide products and services to my customers and, in turn, a steady employment opportunity for my employees.
I expect a response to my letter with a plan of action for how this will be remedied.
We talked to Fisher by phone late yesterday; she said she had received a reply from SDOT saying the sidewalk-blocking camp would be removed, but no date or timeframe was mentioned.
After first receiving her letter Thursday morning, we had inquired with the city Human Services Department, which had previously been the city lead on homelessness response, before learning today that it is no longer on point for potential encampment removals. Those are now up to individual departments to prioritize, depending on whose public property is involved, so that’s why SDOT responded to Fisher – because sidewalks are under its jurisdiction (aside from the city rules that property owners otherwise are liable for maintaining sidewalks outside their homes and businesses).
HSD spokesperson Will Lemke did tell us, “HSD is aware of the concern and is working with outreach agencies to send outreach workers to the area and try to work with the people living unhoused there. I do not have more information at this time, but we do understand the real frustrations of the local community and business owners.”
At least one of the other business owners has met with City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who responded to our inquiry about the Roxhill/Delridge sidewalk residents today. She said she had met Wednesday night with Mac’s Triangle Pub proprietor Mac McElroy (whose business is across Delridge from the sidewalk residents), the owner of the building next to the sidewalk camp, and reps from a resource program called CoLEAD. Herbold said she was told outreach providers already have been to the location and quoted them as telling her:
“Once again, the problem we are continuing to run into is first off a lack of services, shelter, and options across the board, as well as a lack of transparency and access to the current options being offered by the City. Multiple outreach workers have told me that they have tried using the prioritization assessment to get folks into the Executive Inn and have made many referrals for vulnerable folks, however simply do not hear back from the city or have seen the referrals going towards other priority areas, regardless of the needs or vulnerabilities in that site. In the meantime, we will continue working with folks to build rapport, supply them with basic needs and whatever appropriate resources we have that day, and converse with them about different ways to keep their areas clear and safe for all and how we can support them in doing that while there are still no places for them to go.”
Herbold did say, though, that with CoLEAD involvement, “I believe we will begin to see some changes in this location.”
Finally late today, we got the official response from SDOT, via spokesperson Ethan Bergerson, who said the site is “identified for outreach”:
Human Services Division and Seattle Department of Transportation are working together to address concerns about the encampment blocking the sidewalk on Delridge Way SW between SW Roxbury and 15th Ave SW.
This location is on a list (of) encampments identified for outreach. HSD will perform outreach to the people living in the encampment to provide resources and encourage them to take advantage of shelter options. The hope is that people will choose to take advantage of shelter options or find another place to live. SDOT is currently waiting for an update from HSD on the status of this outreach effort so that we can determine next steps, and we hope to learn more soon.
“Identified for outreach” would seem to be a reference to the conditions in this Human Services Department document provided by Councilmember Herbold’s staffm listing potential “strategies” for “high-profile encampments,” and concluding that sites may be subject to removal “if the site’s impacts cannot be remedied by outreach strategies alone.” While the city has reduced the number of encampment removals, some have happened in other parts of the city, like Miller Park – adjacent to a school – three weeks ago.
Meantime, back on Delridge Way, Fisher sent the city a second letter today:
This letter is my second request that the homeless encampments (tents, garbage, belongings) be removed from the 9400 block of Delridge Way SW.
I would like to draw your attention to FAS 17-01, specifically Section 3.0 Definitions, Item 3:4:
““Obstruction” means people, tents, personal property, garbage, debris or other objects related to an encampment that: are in a City park or on a public sidewalk; interfere with the pedestrian or transportation purposes of public rights-of-way; or interfere with areas that are necessary for or essential to the intended use of a public property or facility.”
The encampments located in the 9400 block of Delridge Way SW are in clear violation of the above mentioned rules set forth by Department of Finance and Administrative Services.
In an email dated May 6, 2021, a Department of Transportation employee, Karen Sweeney, mentioned that this site is on a list for outreach and tent removal through HSD. As of the date of this letter, I have not received an update on when that can be expected.
I require a response to my letter with a plan of action and timeline for when this will be remedied.
We’ll keep checking back with her and with the city.