Tarps, trash and people who’ve been living on the street were cleared Tuesday from an encampment across from the Snohomish County Courthouse. In recent weeks, the makeshift camp had attracted dozens to a small park on the corner of Everett’s Wall Street and Rockefeller Avenue. The once-tranquil spot is a memorial to a child homicide victim beaten into a coma in the 1990s.
By late morning Tuesday, there was little left where just the day before the park was filled with tents, rags and dangerous detritus. It was where people had come for free meals provided by a local nonprofit, but that food didn’t arrive Tuesday. Sheriff’s deputies were awaiting garbage pickup at Matthew Parsons Memorial Park. Those who populated it had scattered as lunchtime approached.
Courtney O’Keefe, a Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said one man was arrested at the park on a drug charge Tuesday and booked into jail “after deputies witnessed him shoot up and then shoot up multiple other people.”
Other trouble included vandalism to the park’s gazebo, ruined landscaping, a recent campfire, human waste and discarded needles, O’Keefe said. “We don’t know how many were staying overnight. There were multiple homemade tent-like structures,” said O’Keefe, who estimated about 40 people were showing up daily for meals.
The sheriff’s office has asked people involved with a local nonprofit to relocate food distribution efforts, she said.
“I was told to stop as of last night,” said Robert Smiley, founder of the Hand Up Project. The group helps people who are homeless or struggling with addiction. For weeks, Smiley said, his group has been providing as many as 85 meals per day, five days a week, to people at the site.
He said Tuesday that an email from an administrative assistant to county Human Services Director Mary Jane Brell Vujovic requested that he stop bringing hot meals and sack lunches to the park, and instead encourage people to use feeding programs at churches and other sites. Brell Vujovic could not be reached for comment.
Although he knew vandalism and drug use had occurred, Smiley said he believed it was safer during the coronavirus crisis for homeless people to stay at the park rather than scatter.
“We knew they were going to be there,” he said. “Now they’re not able to locate people.”
For Jake Funston, a retired sheriff’s deputy, it was painful to see the park trashed. It was built as a remembrance of a child lost to abuse.
In an email to The Herald, Funston wrote of seeing “dozens of men and women who have overrun and captured the serenity of a beautiful park,” a place to “reflect on the life of Matthew Parsons … eat lunch or visit with a friend.”
“Now, citizens are denied the opportunity to enjoy a little beauty and peace, and from experience I can tell people feel threatened,” wrote Funston, who retired from the sheriff’s office in 2013 after being injured on duty.
Officer Aaron Snell, an Everett police spokesman, said that although the park is in Everett, it’s on Snohomish County property.
In 1991, Matthew Parsons, 12, was severely beaten by his father at the man’s Everett home, and the boy’s head was slammed into the floor by the father’s girlfriend. Matthew was in a coma until 1997, when he died at age 17.
Funston, who lives in Arlington, said he has nothing against the homeless, but that “Matthew Parsons Park needs to be restored to its original beauty.”
Ken Klein, an executive director with the county executive’s office, said the county has recently moved about 300 people into safe shelters and motel rooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Those efforts have continued as embedded social workers join with deputies.
A reduction in the county jail population — an effort to prevent the virus from spreading behind bars — has put more people on the streets, Klein said. He said the Salvation Army is overseeing a day center at Everett’s United Church of Christ. There is a similar program at the Carnegie Building in Everett, and the Angel of the Winds Arena is still open as an isolation quarantine center for people possibly affected by the virus.
Last week, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced a new “pandemic team” called SAFE, SnoCo Agencies for Engagement. Its goal is to reach people without shelter through a partnership of law enforcement, fire and health agencies.
“We’re working on figuring out solutions, more safe shelter,” Klein said.
Smiley, of the Hand Up Project, used Facebook to deliver what some see as bad news on the street. He wrote of his regret that Monday “was our last day of serving lunch at the park across from the courthouse.” He voiced his disagreement with the decision to move the temporary residents out, and his concerns over then “roaming about the city.”
“We will do the best we can (to) be of service to our community and those in need in a different way or someplace else,” Smiley wrote.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.