It started with a business’ digital sign where I-5’s northbound carpool lane exits onto Broadway near 41st Street: “Welcome to Tweakerville,” an apparent reference to the city’s problems with opioid and other addictions.
The hoped-for media attention followed. Gary Watts, owner of two auto service businesses in the neighborhood, told The Herald and other media he was fed up with illegal drug use and the homeless who hang out in the area, particularly on Smith Avenue near the Everett Gospel Mission.
Watts told The Herald’s Jim Davis he hoped to “polarize the community,” expecting the sign would anger some and please others. Watts also said he timed his sign campaign to coincide with the city’s election for mayor and three city council positions, believing it would raise drug use, crime and homelessness as election issues.
Those issues already were common themes during the election, particularly at candidate forums, long before the sign went up. But Watts has every right to use his sign to proclaim his concerns.
Watts has now ramped up his campaign, erecting a surveillance camera that is trained on the homeless and others who sit daily along the Smith Avenue sidewalk near the mission and across the street from his business at 36th Street and Smith Avenue. The camera, dubbed “Tweaker Cam,” provides a live feed on YouTube and Facebook of the scene.
Chuck Watts, son of the business owner, said the camera is shedding light on the issue. “It’s one thing to read about it and hear about it; it’s another thing when you actually see it,” he told The Herald.
While the issues that Everett and all cities in Snohomish County are confronting with addiction and substance abuse, homelessness and mental illness can always use more attention and understanding, live-streaming a street scene of homeless people isn’t providing either.
Watts, like any other business or individual, has every right to use surveillance cameras at his properties. Used properly, the cameras provide security for a business or residence and can deter break-ins and other unlawful activity.
But it’s not clear that either is the intention with the Tweaker Cam. And the name is the giveaway.
Referring to those congregating on Smith Avenue as “tweakers” shows a lack of empathy and understanding for the problem the city and its residents are facing. Not all homeless are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some are suffering from mental illness. Others are victims of poverty and many are on waiting lists for housing.
Homelessness itself reduces the privacy that a person should expect. There are few places where a homeless person is not in the public eye during the day. Training a camera on them 24 hours a day further reduces that privacy to nearly nothing.
And Gary Watts told The Herald he intends to replace the current camera with higher-resolution equipment that will let viewers “count the freckles on people’s faces.” Watts also says he has plans to offer guided tours in a 14-passenger van he recently purchased. Again, for what purpose, other than to shame and embarrass?
Those who believe that shame is an effective method of persuasion when working with those suffering from addiction do not understand the disease well. People who abuse drugs and alcohol often do so to suppress feelings of shame. Heaping greater shame on them only adds to the cycle.
Watts’ frustration with the pace of success in addressing these issues is understandable, and it’s a feeling shared among those who are confronting it on a daily basis, including city residents, church members, social service agencies, health care providers, police, paramedics and city government staff and officials.
Resolution will take some time, but the collective efforts of those groups are well under way. Everett’s Streets Initiative, outlining a number of programs and efforts, is a model for other communities and is working to provide supportive housing and connect those on the street with services that treat addiction and mental illness. There’s a commitment from candidates for mayor and council to continue that work.
A post on the cam’s Facebook feed explains that the “end goal” is to stop people from congregating on Smith Avenue with hopes that raising awareness can solve the problem in a “humane manner.”
We’re certain that Watts and others really do have the concerns of the community and the homeless in mind. But hoping that a live-streaming camera will shame the homeless off Smith Avenue does nothing to address the problems.
And it’s not humane.