City Resumes RV Sweeps; Another High-Level Staffer Leaves Homelessness Authority

Yellow eco-blocks line a street in West Seattle where RVs used to park.
After sweeping an RV encampment in West Seattle, someone installed bright-yellow “eco blocks” to prevent people from returning.

1. After the city announced it would begin enforcing the long-suspended “72-hour rule”—which requires vehicle owners to move their car, truck, or RV every three days—back in May, it was only a matter of time before the Harrell Administration started cracking down on people living in their vehicles. Less than two weeks later, workers arrived to clear out a group of people living in their RVs at Ruby Chow Park in Georgetown, towing away vehicular homes that could not be moved and sending some residents off to emergency shelters across town.

Last week, the same story played out at a longtime RV encampment on SW Andover Street in West Seattle, when the city gave residents 72 hours to leave the site. According to a spokeswoman for Seattle Public Utilities, which conducts what the city calls “RV remediations,” there were 15 RVs, 11 vehicles, one tent, and one trailer on site when the removal signs went up.

On Thursday, when workers showed up to clear the site, the SPU spokeswoman said “six RVs, three trailers, one box truck, three vehicles, two tents and 13 people” remained. Overall, three people accepted referrals to shelter, in addition to nine who left with shelter referrals over the previous month. That leaves nine people who were on site when crews came out who “self-relocated” to unknown locations.

In a recent newsletter, West Seattle city council representative Lisa Herbold noted that when people lose the RVs where they have been living, they lose not just a parking space but their actual home; emergency shelter, where people live in close proximity with no privacy or space to store personal belongings, isn’t an equivalent substitute for a private space with a locking door. “RV residents are a different group, with different needs, from other folks experiencing homelessness. They quite literally already have a home,” Herbold wrote.

A sign provides information about how RV owners can retrieve their impounded vehicles.
A sign provides information about how RV owners can retrieve their impounded vehicles.

Once the city towed the last remaining vehicles and hauled off what SPU describes as more than 50,000 pounds of trash, workers  replaced the RVs with large concrete “eco-blocks” meant to prevent RVs from parking at this location in the future. According to the West Seattle Blog, nearby Nucor Steel installed the blocks (illegally) in the public right-of-way. We have asked the city why they have not removed the blocks or required Nucor to remove them.

Parking an oversize vehicle on public streets overnight is illegal almost everywhere in the city, with the exception of small swathes of industrial land in Ballard, Georgetown, Interbay, and West Seattle.

Last week, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority awarded $1.9 million to the Low-Income Housing Institute, which operates most of the city’s tiny house villages, to open a safe parking lot for up to 50 RVs later this year. The funding, and the spaces themselves, represent a very small umbrella against a deluge of need: According to the most recent census of people experiencing homelessness, about 2,700 people were living in cars or RVs in King County in 2020, before the COVID pandemic.

The city has scheduled six RV removals in June; the next two on the schedule are on N Northlake Way, near Gasworks Park on June 28 and 4th Ave. S. in Georgetown on June 29. So far, seven RV sweeps are on the schedule for July.

2. Dawn Shepard, a former outreach director at REACH who took a high-profile job as co-director of the KCRHA’s peer navigator program earlier this year, has left the agency after just three months—the latest in a wave of high-level departures from the homelessness authority.

Peer navigators, now known as “system advocates,” are case managers with lived experience of homelessness who will work with people living unsheltered in downtown Seattle, with the goal of connecting them to services and appropriate shelter or housing—and “drawing down” the number of people living in tents downtown to “functional zero.” The privately funded effort got underway earlier this year.

As one of four co-directors of the system advocates program, Shepard shared her personal story at public meetings and to press outlets like Crosscut, which presented the concept of hiring people with lived experience as a unique new approach to unsheltered homelessness. Shepard is hardly the only KCRHA employee to describe her traumatic experiences in public; agency director Marc Dones frequently talks about their past struggles with mental illness and brushes with homelessness.

Some longtime direct-service providers and others doing on-the-ground work with homeless people in Seattle have quietly criticized this approach, noting that most of their employees also have lived experience with the homelessness and criminal justice systems. They’ve also objected to the idea that lived experience in itself is the most important qualification for jobs working with vulnerable people, and raised concerns about the need to protect employees from being retraumatized by telling their stories publicly as part of their jobs.

KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens acknowledged that most homeless service providers “hire many people with lived experience, and lived experience is often what draws people to wanting to do the work of helping others and creating change.” Although several KCRHA employees do share their past experiences publicly as part of their jobs, Martens says it’s entirely their choice to do so.”

Shepard did not return a call for comment, and Martens said she couldn’t provide any details about why she left. REACH program director Chloe Gale, Shepard’s former boss, noted that REACH has several open positions at the director level and recently increased its salaries to a level closer to what the KCRHA offers its own outreach workers. The pay differential between the new government agency and nonprofit service providers has been a bit of a sore spot, since most nonprofits can’t compete with the salaries KCRHA can offer.

Other high-ranking KCRHA employees who have left this year include senior advisor Lisa Gustaveson, who returned to the Seattle Human Services Department; special assistant Naomi See, who left for a position in Washington, D.C.; and chief community impact officer Denille Bezemer, who headed up the agency’s new interview-based homeless population count and returned to the Seattle Housing Authority. “Given that we are a start-up, some turnover is to be expected and I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary,” Martens said

6 thoughts on “City Resumes RV Sweeps; Another High-Level Staffer Leaves Homelessness Authority”

  1. 50 RV spaces at 1.9 million a year???WTF!!! Could probably park them in a nice RV park for that. $1666 month

    1. The claim in the photo caption that “the city” installed eco blocks is inaccurate. They were installed by neighboring businesses, as reported in the WS Blog.

  2. The city is doing a good job of making out parks and public spaces clean and safe for use by all citizens. I applaud the changes.

  3. I wish Dawn Sheppard well wherever she finally ends up, hopefully with a well paying job far, far away from the whole “Industrial Homeless Complex”.

    At this point it’s pretty clear the KCRHA is a complete waste of time and money and needs to go away. The big picture of homeless service providers has a massive bureaucracy of city governments and the KCRHA subcontracting the problem to a bunch of unregulated non-profits who hire a constantly churning staff all paid under $25 a hour. Right now I think the City has something like 13 housing vouchers a year for every non profit helping the homeless in Seattle. Most non-profits just don’t have the resources to make much of a difference as well as a demoralized, underpaid and unprofessional staff. Marc Dones should be wearing clown shoes.

    The real problem with Seattle has always been the same. The City is too cheap to solve problems.

    1. I think the city (and KCRA) are doing a good job. Lower woodland park and green lake are safe places for the public and usable again (aside from picnic shelters and bathrooms which need work). People have been offered shelter and many took it. Not everyone will accept right away but the parks should be safe and available for day use as they were meant to be.

    2. I run Seattle Dogs Homeless Program a 501c3 nonprofit street outreach program and foster based dog rescue, although we are geared towards the animals those animals have people attached to them, and we would love to have housing vouchers available for the people with pets that we help that are ready for housing. But we’ve never been approached and our previous inquires went mia.

      Ready for housing? Yes, ready for housing! Not every person is ready for housing, you’d be surprised at the number of people who’ve gone from homeless to housed who still go back to sleep outside, who often are having a very difficult time living where they were housed by xx agencies. Alot of people are housed in apts where a organization pays standard rent for 6 months then the person is required to start paying the rent.. but how if they aren’t ready to work? Rent that can be $1100 or more. Thus 6 most later they are once again homeless or facing homelessness.

      I could go on for days about this issue and more, I won’t for the readers sake but I’ll close in saying if we had x amount of vouchers avail we’d do more than offer it and say goodbye, as we stand Seattle Dogs stays with the people/animals we help thru out homelessness then once housed we continue to help them for 6 months with pet food, supplies, boarding, vet care etc, we check in, they check in, we see how the animal and owner are doing, see what’s needed by the owner, their family unit, their pets to make their housing successful etc, so it makes sense for us to be able to offer x housing vouchers.

      “Housing can’t come with 100% restrictions but some restrictions are needed and necessary, without them the revolving doors of homelessness will continue to spin wildly breaking panes at every turn of the knob.” Lora

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