The residents at a new RV homeless encampment in southeast Seattle are facing eviction by city authorities. Again.
Previously rousted from under the West Seattle Bridge and then an alley beside some train tracks in SoDo, the residents of Camp Sanctuary received notice last week that they’ll be evicted from a vacant WSDOT property on June 1. Many of the vehicles do not run, and were towed to the current site. No reason for the eviction was given on the official notice beyond the fact that the land (like almost all land in Seattle) is unauthorized for RV camping. But Mayor Ed Murray’s homelessness czar George Scarola explained the city’s position to campers when he visited last week.
“Our sense is that once a person is in a mobile home, an RV, there’s no incentive to leave it because it’s not great, but it’s a lot better than most things out there,” Scarola said, according to video of the conversation taken by one of the campers. “There’s a lot of reasons why you wouldn’t want to leave it.” This statement falls in line with what representatives of the mayor have said in the past: that continuously evicting homeless people gives them an incentive to accept whatever shelter is offered and thus contributes to ending homelessness. Scarola also said it was difficult for people in city government to explain to taxpayers and business owners why the city tolerates homeless encampments.
Even if the city had some appropriate land on-hand, Scarola said, tents and tiny houses will likely receive priority over RVs, which are relatively space-inefficient. “We just don’t have any piece of land that works, that could work,” he said. “If we had a piece of land, you can fit more tents and tiny homes than RVs. So if you’re really trying to get people off the street, that’s your first priority.” In short, there is not and will not be anywhere in Seattle where very poor RV residents are allowed to live (beyond one authorized RV lot with room for about a dozen RVs in SoDo that is near capacity).
According to the results of the January 2017 point-in-time homeless population count, there are 2,314 people living in vans, cars and RVs in King County. The overwhelming majority are located in Seattle. Along with the SoDo RV lot, Mayor Ed Murray previously experimented with two other supervised RV lots, but those lots turned out to be impractically expensive.
Camp Sanctuary is located in District 2, which is represented on City Council by Lisa Herbold. According to her office, Herbold does not have any plans to intervene in the eviction.
Sally Bagshaw, who chairs the Seattle Council’s Human Services and Public Health committee, said that she’s “not satisfied” with the current policy of sweeping RVs but also doesn’t plan to intervene in Thursday’s eviction of Camp Sanctuary. “They’re on WSDOT property,” said Bagshaw. “They have to go somewhere else because WSDOT says ‘We’re closing this down.’ And we don’t have other lots set up for them that neighbors are accepting at this point. So we’re back to the question of where do they go, and we end up chasing people around, which makes no sense at all. For me, it’s the hardest problem we’ve got right now.”
This post has been updated.