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caption: A spray painted message on this tent reads, "This is my home through struggle and a lot of love from strangers" on the morning of the camp clearing.
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A spray painted message on this tent reads, "This is my home through struggle and a lot of love from strangers" on the morning of the camp clearing.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

Seattle removes Capitol Hill tent encampment that grew during pandemic

The city of Seattle began removing dozens of tents surrounding Miller Playfield in east Capitol Hill on Friday April 16.

The tent encampment sat directly next to Meany Middle School and had grown significantly during the pandemic, up to over 30 tents by Friday.

For the past few weeks, campers have either moved out of the park or have been directed into shelter by outreach groups. Neighbors and housing advocates showed up on Friday in support of the camp, but Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office cites safety concerns at the park ahead of students returning to Meany on Monday.

Eddie Vallejo said he had heard rumblings about Miller being cleared for a while. He had lived in the encampment for about eight months and for most of that time there was talk about concerned parents at Meany Middle School next door.

“I watched some of the old news clips,” Vallejo said on Friday morning with a tall cup of steaming coffee. “The soccer moms were going crazy because we were out here and their kids are playing soccer.”

Vallejo’s tent — and dozens of others — nearly surrounded the perimeter of Miller Playfield, a large green field used for baseball, soccer, and other sports. The camp grew from two clusters of tents to a few of them touching the brick wall of Meany, over recent months. On Thursday, a group kids were indeed kicking around a soccer ball and playing lacrosse, as a handful of camp residents began packing up early.

On Wednesday, Seattle Parks crews posted paper notices informing Vallejo and the others they had until Friday to pack up their tents and leave. The fliers included information for shelter options and temporary storage for personal belongings.

Although he knew it was coming, Vallejo wasn’t eager to leave and was one of the last in the park on Friday morning.

“It’s been good here — been quiet at night time,” he said. “We weren’t harassed by the city, the school, or the police, which is cool. And the neighbors have jumped in.”

The coffee Vallejo has is from Ari Laurel, who lives in a house across the street from the park. Laurel and her partner, David Langevin, were two of the more than a dozen or so neighbors and volunteers who showed up early on Friday with food and moving supplies.

caption: Volunteers began bringing food on Wednesday when notices of the camp clearing went up.
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Volunteers began bringing food on Wednesday when notices of the camp clearing went up.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

“It’s really cold blooded of the city to just announce all of a sudden like, ‘Oh you all have to move. You have three days to move all of your possessions,’” Langevin said. “If we try to move it takes a month to plan.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said the camp clearing came in preparation of students returning to Meany Middle School on Monday, and points to recent safety concerns at the encampment. The Seattle Fire Department has reportedly responded to the park multiple times for tent fires and injuries.

Kamaria Hightower, a spokesperson for the Mayor, wrote in an email that, “the City is committed to providing students access to school that is safe and accessible.”

But the issue of safety is twofold, said Laurel.

“Homelessness is a safety concern for people who are unhoused,”she said. “It’s a matter of how is the city prioritizing safety, and safety for whom?”

Earlier this month two Seattle Public Schools board members shared on Facebook they thought the camp should remain at the park.

The city said every person who was living at Miller has been offered shelter at some point over the last few months of outreach. As of Friday, 40 people were referred to temporary shelter at the Executive Hotel Pacific, including Eddie Vallejo.

Vallejo said he is looking forward to a comfortable bed and hot shower, though he is not sure how long he can stay at the hotel. He added that he'll also miss being tucked into the Miller Park neighborhood.

“I’ve been homeless for going on seven years now. And I’ve never seen so much help from the community,” he said with a homemade sandwich in his hand.