“We don’t sweep.”
“We lead with compassion.”
“We are One Seattle.”
These are the words (and lies) of Bruce Harrell, mayor of so-called Seattle, the city named after the Suquamish and Duwamish Chief Si’ahl. In this podcast from Po People’s Radio, povertySkola Tiny-Gray Garcia speaks with Tye from the organization Stop the Sweeps Seattle about the violent reality of sweeps and nonprofiteering non-solutions to homelessness in Chief Si’ahl (Seattle).
From Stop the Sweeps Seattle
"We Don’t Sweep"- Erasing Visible Poverty
Stop the Sweeps is a movement arising from the early days of the pandemic, when an increasing awareness of mutual aid drove folks from Seattle to Oregon to Austin, Texas to confront the violence faced by houseless people and to advocate for actual solutions. Tye tells us that in 2020, then-mayor Jenny Durkan had residents thinking the institutional violence was “the worse it could get.” Durkan had been sending police to terrorize Black Lives Matter protesters and ordering sweeps. Only COVID restrictions and recommendations from the CDC slowed down those sweeps, allowing a few “off-the-road” communities to exist in relative peace for three years, while major parks were still routinely swept.
When Bruce Harrell became mayor in 2022, he proved able to continue and intensify Durkan’s legacy of violence, joining the likes of Eric Adams, mayor of New York, Lori Lightfoot, mayor of Chicago, and London Breed, mayor of San Francisco—all POC, liberal leadership. Tye says, “Like so many black liberal mayors, [Bruce Harrell is] extremely pro police, and we've seen an exaggerated increase in the number of deaths of people living outside in just the year that he's been in office, since January of this year. We've seen people's entire homes get demolished. They've been using construction equipment to completely clear out areas, so within 24 hours, you wouldn't even recognize that dozens, if not hundreds of people, lived in some of these encampments.”
February 19, 2023. From Stop the Sweeps Seattle
And yet, Mayor Bruce Harrell has said that “We do not sweep.” He says this even as Seattle approves almost 40 million more dollars to fund the government departments that enact sweeps—Seattle Public Utilities, the Department of Transportation, and the Parks and Rec Department. He says this even as his administration brags about their sweeping numbers and how encampments have been “resolved.” Instead of serving people, as these institutions are meant to do, they “turn their focus to erasing visible poverty,” says Tye.
“Immediate notice sweep across from city hall. City workers throwing away someone’s home and mashing it in the garbage truck.” March 9, 2022. From Real Change News
In the delusion that they have successfully elected a liberal politician to “solve problems,” much of the white, middle-class population of Seattle fails to see the lie of “leading with compassion” and “One Seattle” purported by the government. Like those in other liberal cities, instead of supporting poor people’s solutions and the needs of working-class people, many privileged residents donate to nonprofiteers and political candidates who will then enact their violence and non-solutions. At this point, Stop the Sweeps struggles to put up a huge resistance without the support of the larger community in Chief Si’ahl, but they do offer critical support on the ground—showing up to sweeps, helping people move their belongings, distributing supplies for survival, making homemade heaters, offering meals, and providing tents and sleeping bags.
City workers dismantle a living structure in Woodland Park. Photo by Mark White. From Real Change News. May 18, 2022
Non-Solutions and Nonprofiteering
While Harrell claims sweeps don’t happen and that the goal is to get people housed, Stop the Sweeps actively tracks those sweeps and helps bear witness to how meager the efforts are to give any meaningful support. At a recent sweep where at least 40 people were evicted, Stop the Sweeps noted there was only a single offer of a tiny house with seemingly little intention to follow through. The person offered the tiny house was not arranged a ride or given any sort of confirmation or referral information. The rest of those swept were offered congregate shelter. At sweeps during the beginning of the pandemic, many organizations offered hotel rooms, which were received well because people could have their own space. However, hotel money ran out for most organizations in 2021, and the same offers of congregate shelter returned. In some of these shelters, people are only allowed to bring a few of their belongings and are subject to lack of privacy and oppressive rules about behavior.
Photo by Flickr user Prayitnophotography. From Real Change News
Tye informs us that, similar to San Francisco, nonprofiteers also build tiny houses as a “solution.” The nonprofit LIHI (Low Income Housing Institute) has a monopoly on the tiny house industry in Chief Si’ahl as they’re able to get the millions of dollars needed to build and run tiny house villages. However, as seen in other cities with tiny houses, most villages are seen as transitional housing and run almost like jails, not a “home.” There are restrictive rules about belongings (how many and what kinds you can bring), substances, cleanliness, and how residents can interact with public spaces. Tiny houses may work well for some, but for many who do accept the offer of a tiny house, the oppressive nature of the management there pushes people back on the street where there is more freedom.
Though many residents of LIHI’s tiny houses voice complaints, the government and philanthropimps still see them as a solution, or a tax break. LIHI is just one of the many nonprofits “washing the names of corporations” through donations. In Chief Si’ahl, a town dripping in money from tech and other industries, nonprofiteers vie for money from corporations like Amazon and Starbucks, or the Gates Foundation. Meanwhile, no meaningful changes are made to actually make housing affordable. While there are hundreds of nonprofit programs in Chief Si’ahl that offer rental or financial assistance, they can be difficult and complicated to apply for, and the waitlist can be miles long. Nonprofit-run affordable housing units are roughly $1,100 for a one-bedroom apartment, which is only affordable by Seattle standards, where a one bedroom is around $1,800 a month. Additionally, the limited number of affordable housing units available are often in terrible condition. Tye has seen some units owned by the Catholic Community Services that are $900 for moldy studio apartments on the 10th floor without working elevators.
By continuing to sweep people without investing in solutions which poor people have, houseless people in Chief Si’ahl are being pushed further into more dangerous places around the city, such as freeways. The reality is that there haven’t been significant numbers of actual affordable housing units getting built, and encampments are being swept instead of sanctioned.
March 18, 2023. From Stop the Sweeps Seattle
There is so much money being tossed around in the nonprofit industry and government institutions, but the terrifying truth is—even that amount is a fraction of the total wealth being hoarded by corporations and individuals in Chief Si’ahl. “Our dream… is that we could teach some of those wealth hoarders about radical redistribution and I know that there’s conscious people there [in Chief Si’ahl], says Tiny.
Homefulness, a homeless people’s solution to homelessness, was mamafested in so-called Oakland through the visionary work of poverty scholars such as Tiny, along with those with privilege who chose to walk alongside them and radically redistribute their wealth. Homefulness UnSells the land and provides people with a permanent home—unlike sweeps, unlike congregate shelters, unlike tiny house villages, unlike nonprofit-run “affordable” housing.
From March 24th-25th, Poor Magazine’s Po Poets and poverty Skolas will lead an “UnTour” in Chief Si’ahl with curriculum, workshops, film, poetry, performance, and prayer. We will be sharing the medicine of UnSelling Mama Earth, as well building the poor people’s solution to poverty and homelessness called Homefulness. Folks who live in Chief Si’ahl are invited to walk with us, and to speak on what is happening in their town, and learn more.