A homeless camp has popped up on a busy sidewalk in Seattle’s University District. Members of the small tent community say 20 people live here.
The tent cluster on the sidewalk in front of the University District post office is in its second week of what they call silent protest – a bid to draw attention to homeless people and get passers-by talking to them.
“People don’t know our story, and they keep looking the other way and keeping their blinders on,” said Stephen Crow, leader of a group calling itself The Ave Foundation. “That’s a life of indifference.”
Crow, 36, said he’s been homeless since he was 12.
Jackie O’Bryan and her two small children call the tent village home.
“Sometimes I do go hungry so my kids don’t have to, and I’m fine with that, honestly,” she said. O’Bryan said her 9-month-old and 2-year-old sons are happy and healthy.
"Because of the situation that I’m in, I’m under so much scrutiny on a regular basis. People just expect that my kids’ needs aren’t going to be met, so therefore I go above and beyond," O'Bryan said.
"Not just because I want the best for my kids but to make sure people aren’t looking at my kids and immediately on the phone with [Child Protective Services], like, 'This woman needs to have her kids taken from her.'"
Crow said police often remove homeless people’s encampments throughout Seattle without giving the required 72-hour notice.
Seattle’s mayor has taken note of rising homelessness here. Discussing the city’s budget on Monday, Mayor Ed Murray noted that the homeless population in Seattle has risen by about a third in past three years.
A few feet away from the tents, Tyler Smith was waiting for a northbound bus.
“It only bothers me that it’s so public,” Smith said of the sidewalk camp. “I understand they have a plight, and they have problems, but there’s no need to push it here.”
Seattle Police spokesman Drew Fowler said it is illegal to camp on sidewalks and that police have received complaints about the tents.
Fowler said police plan to disperse the tent village “at some point.” He said police are working with social service agencies first to find alternatives for the people living there.
“If we don’t have something better to offer, simply displacing them and moving them someplace else isn’t always the best answer,” Fowler said. “It solves the wrong problem.”
Among the sidewalk dwellers, Dustin Redding said that everyone needs some way to sleep. He said homeless people suffer when police wake and move them repeatedly in a single night.
“We’re all the same human beings,” he said. “Everybody’s just trying to survive.”