1. Restrooms at three Seattle Public Library branches—Ballard, Capitol Hill, and the Central Library—that have will be open to the public fewer hours beginning July 21, a loss of access that will largely impact people experiencing homelessness in those neighborhoods. Most library branches have reopened on a limited basis, in many cases just two or three days a week.
In response to widespread restroom closures during the pandemic, the city’s library system opened restrooms at five branches from 10am to 6pm seven days a week last April; the goal, according to Mayor Jenny Durkan, was to provide “additional vital hygiene resources to people living unsheltered.” Now, restrooms will only be available when the libraries themselves are open; currently, all three libraries are open limited hours, meaning that restrooms will be closed at times when they used to be available.
The parks department confirmed that police do routinely accompany them to encampment removals “any time there are safety concerns during their work.”
The impact will be the greatest at the Capitol Hill branch, where people will no longer have access to restrooms on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday mornings from 10 to noon. In Ballard and at the central library downtown, restrooms will now be closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Library spokeswoman Laura Gentry said daily access to library restrooms “was always meant to be a temporary standalone service until we could provide more restroom access through reopening libraries. Now that city and state COVID-19 restrictions are being dropped, more restroom options have become available to the public, and many more Seattle libraries are reopened, we believe it’s important to focus Library staffing efforts on reopening the last of our closed neighborhood libraries and supporting pre-pandemic service levels and hours.”
To library users who haven’t been able to go to their local branches in more than a year, accessing local libraries even two days a week will be an improvement. But to people living unsheltered who rely on regular restroom access at the three branches where hours are shrinking, the existence of open restrooms in other neighborhoods is surely a cold comfort.
2. Signs that appeared around Jimi Hendrix Park near the Northwest African American Museum announcing that the city planned to come in and remove any belongings that remained on site yesterday morning had nothing to do with the longstanding protest encampment in front of the museum, a Seattle Parks Department spokeswoman said Thursday. Protesters showed up at the museum and blocked the entrance after word went around on social media about a potential sweep.
Instead, Parks showed up Thursday morning to dismantle a garden shed and remove a garden planted by Black Star Farmers, a group of land activists who established their first garden in Cal Anderson Park during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
According to a spokeswoman for the Parks Department, “The shed was not constructed safely and is impeding the start of a park improvement project.” The spokeswoman said the “community who erected the garden and shed were notified and verbally agreed to remove the structure and the plants.”
It’s unclear whether the farmers would agree with this assertion; we sent a message to the founder of Black Star Farmers, Marcus Henderson, last night and will update this post with his perspective if we hear back. As of Thursday, the group was encouraging supporters on social media to come to the park and protect the garden. The parks spokeswoman said parks staff “left the site because of safety concerns.”
There was no sign of police at the park on Thursday. But the parks department confirmed that police do routinely accompany them to encampment removals “any time there are safety concerns during their work.” Parks staff who remove encampments “regularly experience threats of physical violence, have seen individuals brandish weapons, experience verbal harassment from protestors, have had both protestors and others physically impede their ability to do their work, and on occasional have been physically assaulted,” the spokeswoman said.
Unlike the days of the Navigation Team, when a special team of officers participated directly in encampment sweeps, the cops just “stand by” and wait to see if they’re needed, the Parks spokeswoman said.