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.”