Seattle students will begin a return to in-classroom learning in April, but parents were left shocked after learning that homeless encampments, located on the grounds of two schools welcoming kids back, will likely remain even after the schools reopen.
“As students at Seattle Public Schools start to return for in-person learning following the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the district continues to grapple with the presence of two homeless encampments that have taken root on a pair of the district’s campuses,” Seattle’s KOMO reported. ‘The presence of the encampments at Broadview Thomson K-8, located at 13052 Greenwood Ave., and Edmond S. Meany Middle School, located at 201 21st Ave., has stirred concern among parents and residents who live in the area. They are outraged that students will be back in class Monday and the district has not yet resolved what they describe as a dangerous problem.”
Parents and residents want the homeless encampment removed, they told local media, not simply because special education students are returning to in-person learning on the two campuses, but because the homeless encampments have become a frustrating problem.
“Neighbors have been calling on Seattle Public Schools for months to remove the camp that they say has brought increasing problems to their neighborhood,” KOMO reported earlier this week. In February, they say, a woman died of an overdose in the camp, which, neighbors contend, has become a hotbed for illegal drug activity.
The city of Seattle has so far refused to move the camp because, city officials say, the camp is on the grounds of Seattle Public Schools, which must tackle the problem for itself or officially request help from the city of Seattle.
“The City shares the community’s concerns regarding the encampment at Broadview-Thomson, and has been open to working with Seattle Public Schools to help address encampments adjacent to SPS property and facilitate a safe return to the classroom for Seattle students,” Seattle’s Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. “However, the decision of whether to address an encampment on school property is up to Seattle Public Schools.”
Durkan then went on to suggest that Seattle Public Schools may not want to fully address the problem. “Recently, the Seattle School Board President issued a statement decrying City outreach strategies that may eventually lead to a removal and demanding that removals should ‘never be performed on school grounds, adjacent, or elsewhere in the City.'”
Seattle Public Schools says it is aware of the issue, but that it believes the encampment is not dangerous.
“The pandemic has deepened inequities, including access to housing. It is a crisis that Seattle must find a solution for and do so compassionately,” the district said in its own statement. “We are aware of an encampment near Broadview-Thomson K-8. While SPS owns property behind the school, the encampment is not on the Broadview-Thomson school campus. It is on the other side of a fence away from school grounds. Seattle Public Schools supports prompt outreach to residents, and efforts to identify long term solutions.”
Seattle reporter Jason Rantz noted that, in leaked emails, the school district actually refused to request the mayor’s office sweep the camps for illegal activity.
“Members of the Seattle School Board demanded the mayor’s office not sweep dangerous and growing homeless encampments on two school properties,” Rantz reported Tuesday. “Seattle School Board President Chandra Hampson and Director Zachary DeWolf tried to stop Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office from sweeping encampments near Meany Middle School on Capitol Hill, and at Broadview Thomson K-8 in Bitter Lake.”
“I want to state very clearly this is not an ask for a sweep! I do not believe in sweeps,” DeWolf said in an email. “People experiencing homelessness need housing and resources not traumatic sweeps of their livelihoods and belongings. I understand that the Council has allocated and assigned a lot of funding to support our neighbors experiencing homelessness.”
DeWolf then asked for support from the city to handle the critical issue. “BUT we do need some support — we are bringing students back to classrooms and school buildings/campuses in a matter of a few weeks,” DeWolf said. “Do you have any ideas for how to help?”
The District said, officially, that it is “working” on a solution.
“We are working in partnership with the City of Seattle to support community members residing at the encampment near Meany Middle School. SPS will be identifying the area of the encampment that is close to the school, supporting City contracted outreach partners to identify solutions to challenges, and making clear the boundaries between city property and district grounds,” the district said in its statement. “The pandemic has deepened inequities, including access to housing. This is not a problem with easy solutions, but we are committed to working in partnership to address it together and do so in a compassionate way. Our schools will reopen in a phased approach as planned.”
Parents told KOMO they want much faster solutions.
“You question the judgment of those in charge of keeping your children safe,” one parent of an elementary schooler told the network. “I am calling on the school board to allow Mayor Jenny Durkan to take care of these encampments as she has in the past, which would be to offer services and then guide campers out of the park and let children return to school.”
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