Seattle companies take law into their own hands to fight homelessness and anger activists

Business and real estate owners in Seattle installing 1-ton concrete blocks on city streets to prevent RVs and homeless camps from forming or returning to an area.

“Individual businesses and residents are putting ecological blocks to take matters into their own hands because if they call the city and say there are RVs in front of their business or in front of their home, there’s nothing they can do about it,” business owner JW Harvey told The Seattle Times.

Anonymous Seattleites have been transporting the huge 1- to 2-ton blocks — known as “ecology blocks” or “ecoblocks” — containing special equipment outside residential areas and for businesses to prevent RV parking and homeless camps.

Seattle has struggled for years with homelessness problems, which have only worsened during the pandemic. Seattle and King County are ranked as the third area in the nation with the most homeless people in 2020, with approximately 11,700 people living on the streets. Washington state ranks fifth in the entire country for its homeless population, with 30 people per 10,000 population.

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According to an earlier report by the Seattle Times, camps in Seattle and the county grew during the pandemic, with a 50% increase in tents in the city’s urban center. Data from the King County Regional Homelessness Authority reported that approximately 13,368 people were homeless in 2022, an increase of nearly 14% since 2020 numbers.

Large vehicles such as RVs may only be parked in industrial zones of the city, but the city has paused parking enforcement during the pandemic. Anonymous individuals then proceeded to install more eco-blocks for businesses and homes, particularly in neighborhoods such as Georgetown, Ballard and Sodo, The Seattle Times reported.

In June, a local health club in the city warned followers and members on social media that the gym would install eco-blocks near the building once a homeless camp had cleared the city.

“To prevent encampment returns, the West Seattle Health Club is working with our neighboring businesses to place eco-blocks in the area,” the West Seattle Health Club said in a letter in June.

Safety for customers and employees is often a top priority for business owners, while businesses also worry about losing their livelihoods if they install the blocks, Sodo Business Improvement Area executive director Erin Goodman told The Seattle Times.

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Having a business near a homeless camp brings additional stressors and obligations, according to Goodman. Camps can attract rats that can harm food producers and restaurants, while fires started in homeless camps and RVs can damage retail buildings.

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Crime has also skyrocketed in Seattle since 2020, when the pandemic rocked society and protests and riots engulfed the nation following the death of George Floyd. The homicide rate increased by 61% in 2020 compared to 2019, marking the highest homicide rate for the city in 26 years. By April this year, violent crime had increased by 32% from 2021, previous reports have shown.

JW Harvey, the Georgetown business owner, told the outlet he opposed installing eco-blocks because they would take up public parking and look ugly, but have the “ripple effects” of working near the encampments. exhausted him.

He said that over the past decade, but most importantly: during the pandemic, he has spent more time talking to the people who live in the encampments and giving them tools and water than he actually worked. Harvey argued that many entrepreneurs feel the eco-blocks are their only choice for keeping the encampments away from their shops, citing that it only takes a few weeks for a homeless camp to return to an area that the city has. had been cleared and cleaned.

Installing an eco-block on a city street is illegal, but the city has not forcefully demanded the blocks’ removal, according to the Seattle Times report. There are hundreds of such blocks on the streets of Seattle, but only 25 property owners and businesses have been warned that they could be fined for not removing the blocks as of June 2021. The fines include: a $250 fine for the first violation, $500 for the second, and $1,000 for the third violation. There are no limits to the number of fines a person or company can receive in a year.

The report notes that none of the 25 people or business owners who received warnings about the blockades received a citation on the matter.

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“I do not think [warnings] will scare everyone,” Goodman told the outlet. “They’re still going to do it and even for the period before the city notices, they’re getting a little bit of relief.”

As parking enforcement resumed in the city this year, homeless advocates argued that it is unfair for homeless people to be fined for parking in restricted areas, while people installing the blocks are not being patrolled at the same rate.

“The new mayor was working on a law-and-order platform and this is the law,” Bill Kirlin-Hackett, the director of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness, told The Seattle Times. “We just think it’s quite hypocritical.”

A man who has lived outside his RV for six years told the outlet that the eco-blocks are symbols of hatred for the homeless.

“So much of the community has so much built-up hatred of us,” said Garth Caroll. “We’re trying to take care of ourselves until we can get permanent housing.”

The city called it difficult to determine who is responsible for the street eco-blocks when responding to complaints, as they are often dropped anonymously in areas that include multiple businesses or homes. The Seattleites who install the blocks often do so right after Seattle Public Utilities members ask RVs to move off a street to clean them.

The city says it is responding to complaints from the public about ecological blockades, but there are no workers who “continuously patrol the city looking for violations”. It also comes down to the cost of moving the solid blocks. The city has contracts with tow companies to remove vehicles in illegal areas, but not to remove the eco-blocks.

The office of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and the Seattle Department of Transportation did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s requests for comment.

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