1. Last week, PubliCola reported on the widespread use of “ecology blocks” to prevent people living in RVs from parking on the street in the Ballard industrial area. Although blocking public right-of-way without a permit is against the law, the city’s transportation department has chosen not to enforce the law, and at least two government agencies—the US Postal Service and Seattle City Light—have installed their own barricades to keep RV residents at bay.
Seattle City Light spokeswoman Julie Moore, following up on our questions from late November, said the electric utility decided to install a double line of fencing, which completely blocks the sidewalk on the north side of its Canal substation in Ballard, after two RVs caught fire next to the substation earlier this year.
City Light installed the fencing, at a cost of about $15,000 a year, “to mitigate risks to our critical infrastructure, specifically lines that provide communications to the System Operations Center and 26kV capacitor banks, which, if damaged, would create a power loss at the King County Wastewater Treatment Plan,” Moore said.
Moore said City Light did not install the eco-blocks that block off parking on the south side of the substation.
Ethan Bergerson, a spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said the department’s street use team “is working with Seattle City Light to consider possible solutions to create a pathway or detour for pedestrians while still addressing their safety concerns.”
“Without access to shelter—especially access to a toilet, a place to wash your hands, and clean water – this type of outbreak should come as no surprise, and is an exceedingly difficult problem to control.”
2. As voters in Seattle City Council District 3 decide the fate of City Councilmember Kshama Sawant in a recall election today, the city council is reportedly already mulling her potential replacement.
One name that has risen to the top of the list is that of Alex Hudson, the director of the Transportation Choices Coalition. Hudson, who first rose to prominence as the pro-transit, pro-density director of the First Hill Improvement Association and the co-founder of the website Seattlish, told PubliCola, “I like the job I have now,” adding that she “never wanted to be a politician” or subject her family to the kind of toxicity elected officials have to endure. (Case in point: The Kshama Sawant recall election).
Another rumored contender, Marjorie Restaurant owner and Capitol Hill EcoDistrict executive director Donna Moodie, said she had heard her name “mentioned as well,” but added, “I am currently so enthusiastic for the work I’m doing at Community Roots Housing [formerly Capitol Hill Housing that I can’t imagine anything distracting me from that.”
3. Shigella, a gastrointestinal disease that can be prevented by providing access to soap and running water, is on the rise again among Seattle’s homeless population. According to King County Public Health, there were 13 documented cases of shigella among people experiencing homelessness in King County in November.
According to the Seattle Human Services Department, as of late last week, the HOPE Team had relocated 51 people living at the Ballard Commons into tiny house villages or emergency shelter.
Additionally, Public Health spokeswoman Kate Cole said the agency has see more reports of diarrheal illness in general, “but we have no testing or other clinical details to indicate type of illness, so we don’t know if this could be Shigella, norovirus, some other pathogen, or something non-infectious.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic almost two years ago, advocates have asked the city to provide access to running water and soap so that people living unsheltered can prevent the spread not just of COVID but of other diseases more likely to be transmitted by unwashed hands, like shigella and cryptosporidiosis, which can result in severe illness and hospitalization. To date, the city still has not installed the street sinks the city council funded in 2020, citing a dizzying array of supposed logistical and public health problems with giving homeless people opportunities to wash their hands.
(Update: A Seattle Public Utilities spokesperson says two sinks have been installed, and that the utilities department “is evaluating all hygiene options, including street sinks and hygiene stations, to better understand challenges. To date, provider willingness to host a sink appears to be one of the greatest barriers.” As PubliCola reported earlier this year, providers have expressed frustration that the city is holding them solely responsible for meeting the requirements it has established for any sink to operate, including total ADA compliance and hooking the sinks up to the city’s water supply.)
“Pathogens that cause GI illnesses, including Shigella, are highly transmissible, particularly in settings with large numbers of people living unsheltered,” Cole said. “Without access to shelter—especially access to a toilet, a place to wash your hands, and clean water – this type of outbreak should come as no surprise, and is an exceedingly difficult problem to control.”
4. Outreach workers and members of the city’s HOPE Team, which offers shelter placements to people living in encampments the city plans to sweep, have relocated most of the people living at the Ballard Commons and behind Broadview Thomson elementary in the Bitter Lake neighborhood in preparation for the closure of both encampments. The Commons, incidentally, has been the site of several previous outbreaks of shigella and other gastrointestinal illnesses.
According to the Seattle Human Services Department, as of late last week, the HOPE Team had relocated 51 people living at the Commons into tiny house villages or emergency shelter. Four people are moving into more permanent rooms at a hotel run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center on Aurora Ave. N, and a handful of others received emergency housing vouchers through the homeless outreach organization REACH, or are staying in motels while outreach workers try to work out long-term places for them to stay.
The Commons, which has been the site of a longstanding and persistent encampment since long before the COVID pandemic, will be closed and fenced on Tuesday; on Wednesday, city council member Dan Strauss, who represents the neighborhood, is expected to announce plans to “activate” the one-block park with a new playground; during last year’s budget, Strauss secured $1 million for the project, largely for soil removal and mitigation.
—Erica C. Barnett