Seattle Parks: Where’s the Urgency?


The number was shocking: 26,570 needles/syringes. That was a number posted on screen during a Seattle Parks Commission virtual meeting — the count of drug needles found just in the month of January. That made vivid the scale of any effort to reclaim public parks from tent encampments.

What to do about homeless encampments in public parks was the unstated question for Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller during the meeting. Unfortunately the discussion didn’t offer much encouragement for a quick fix. Yes, there are plans to find more housing — hotel rooms, tiny houses, shelter space — all in the works and impressive on paper. But the timeline isn’t clear, and the occupied local park you care about may not be clear again for months.

I attended the meeting but didn’t get a sense of urgency. Given the challenge, tents everywhere in parks throughout the city, a sense of resignation was not surprising. But there are fixes and many other cities have found them. One example: Instead of leaving encampments in public parks until the city finds enough housing alternatives, move the tents from parks to another setting, such as warehouses, large parking lots, and partnering with churches to have access to toilets and free food programs. That would free up a lot of our parks for public use again. 

As the Seattle Parks Foundation wrote, weeks ago now, “We just want parks to be parks again.”

Mike James
Mike James
Mike James was a long-time anchor newscaster at KING TV.


  1. Thanks for writing about things that seem untouchable for local pols. This reminds me that the most intractable issues might not be ours alone, as exceptional as we are…and neither are the solutions.

  2. Thanks Mike.

    Asking “parks to be parks” is a great goal, and a completely reasonable request. At their best, our parks embody civic values that bring us all together. In my local Denny Park, my son used to play with kids from lots of different backgrounds and housing situations – the park was the place they came together. It provided equal ground and a healthy green environment for everyone. The diversity of people we met was one thing I used to love about living downtown. Playing in the park is impossible now.

    The perpetual encampments represent our city’s failure to change housing policy and support people in need in faster, more creative ways.

  3. Mike, it’s time for old guys like US to quit talking about the city’s drugged society and RUN YOU for office 🙂 You can be another Royer (need to lose the stache)……

  4. Occupying the is a blatant slap in the face to so many who have supported our park though taxes and the Parks Foundation. But I have another cheek . Unfortunately the tented homeless community have taken over the Parks As one views the the ever improving condition of the tents themselves, it appears as if these communities intend stay ( or, at least, are confident that they will not be kicked out)
    A solution:
    There is a very large vacant pier (44-46) which could hold the tented and the vehicle homeless,. The area 88 acres is sufficient to provide services and individualized case counselling and assistance.

    • Good idea, Doug – late seeing this. Unfortunately, this approach – to find a large setting where those in the tents can camp safely, have access to toilets and services while waiting for housing – is on no one’s drawing board at City Hall. It has proven effective to date – in a number of other cities.

  5. Hello Mike…

    I was talking with Dick Clark today…he and Nancy send their regards…recent emergence of teh Explorer Scout abuse problem have galvanized some old history about how that abuse was first illuminated by a King County Sheriff Major…Dick Kraske…and an insuing cover-up by others in law enforcement…I thought perhaps the details of that cover-up might register in time and place given your experiences at King and those of Donna at City Hall…

    the central case here went to the Federal Court and we got a settlement from the cop that was the abuser…all on the record…

    If one were to look back at the numbers of youngsters…both male and female…who might have been spared the abuse and horror if this original matter had been properly investigated…it makes clear that this is essentially a paradigm indicator of the “Seattle-Style” investigation of such matters…

    I hope you and colleagues there will give this some thought…the public needs to understand this aspect of this malaise…also say hello to Ross Anderson…from an old cop he might remember…regards


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