EVERETT — The city is pushing forward with plans to break up a homeless encampment in a vacant lot on Rucker Avenue.
More than 100 people staying in the grassy lot at 3217 Rucker Ave. have until noon on Thursday to clear the property, signs posted there on Wednesday by Everett police warned.
Local advocates for people experiencing homelessness established the camp on Sunday after county officials dispersed another encampment on public property near the jail. Robert Smiley, founder of the nonprofit The Hand Up Project, is renting the lot for $1,000 a month from a longtime friend, Alan Jackson.
At an Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Smiley urged the council to abandon the city’s plans to clear the encampment.
He pointed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that recommend authorities allow encampments to stay where they are, unless there’s an alternative location for people to go. Disbanding such camps can sever ties between homeless people and service providers and increase the risk of infectious disease transmission, the CDC says on its website.
“The majority of these people are not addicted to drugs like they’re being accused of. They just need help,” Smiley said. “They’re getting cut off because of the pandemic or unemployment, and they’re willing to do the work, but nobody’s letting them. They’re harassing them instead of walking them through the process.”
Under city code, homeless encampments may be temporarily permitted. But the encampment on Rucker Avenue was established without notice to or permission from the city, Everett City Attorney David Hall said during the meeting.
“The camp contains 30+ tent structures with occupants living in close proximity and without approved utilities to provide heat, water, or other services necessary for health and sanitation,” says the notice, posted at the site, from the city’s Code Enforcement Unit. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the conditions “constitute an immediate threat to public health and public safety,” the bulletin states.
If the property owner doesn’t heed code enforcement’s emergency order, “the city will take any further legal action that may be necessary to resolve the issue,” Hall said.
Without compliance, the city could clear the camp and charge the property owner for the expenses.
Neighboring businesses, too, have complained that the encampment has created unsanitary and unsafe conditions. Several nearby establishments are poised to take legal action. They’ve retained B. Jakob Bozeman, a Lynnwood attorney who recently sued Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for letting protesters take over roughly six city blocks that became nationally known as CHAZ, or the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.
Everett city leaders, including Mayor Cassie Franklin and Police Chief Dan Templeman, have opposed the encampment since it was set up on the county campus a couple of blocks from Everett City Hall downtown.
“I think the mayor has been very strident in her opposition to this,” Deputy Mayor Nick Harper said during Wednesday’s council meeting. “We’ve not had a tent encampment of this size in the city of Everett ever, certainly not in the last two years. The only reason it persisted and grew is the county allowed it on their land despite our constant objections.”
Brittany Tri, an attorney and public defender, criticized how the county and city treated people who have lived at both sites and asked the city to scrap its emergency order.
“If the city doesn’t want them in this location, where can they go? Set up an empty parking lot for them, set up an empty building for them,” she said. “You have to provide an actual solution to the problem.”
Smiley has said people would only be allowed to camp there until Aug. 2. In the meantime, his organization and others are working to connect them with housing, behavioral health and substance abuse treatment and other resources.
There are 113 people staying in the lot, and advocates have recently gotten 14 individuals off the streets and into housing or detox beds, which provide a safe place for sobering up, Smiley said.
“Instead of bringing over services, (city officials are) shutting the door,” he said. “That means these people are going anywhere and everywhere. They’re going to lose most of their stuff, so they’re going to walk through the city and find more.”
Joe Krewson, who’s been homeless for about a year, moved to the new site on Rucker Avenue from the county property. Living together in the encampment brings many of the people there hope, he said.
Krewson, 56, is not sure where he will go on Thursday.
“I’ll figure it out,” he said.
“I’m tired,” he added. “It gets tiring after a while.”