Homeless camps increasing in Seattle’s urban forest parks

Seattle’s urban forest

Seattle residents love their urban forest parks, but lately, homeless camps have been springing up within the forested confines of the parks. Ask Dean Drugge, who went to water some plants that he and other volunteers planted last winter and found a muddy 10-by-12-foot clearing where someone had chopped down the willow and dogwood trees and uprooted sword ferns and salmonberries to make way for a campsite.

Drugge, a volunteer forest steward, confiscated the pitchfork, hatchet and handsaw left behind by the camper to prevent further destruction. “It’s discouraging,” he said.

Nearly three years since the city declared a “state of emergency” over homelessness, the crisis continues to grow, and many homeless people seek refuge in Seattle’s beloved urban forests.

Forest stewards across the city grapple with competing values of environmental conservation and compassion for the homeless as they see compacted soil, trampled plants, human waste, and leftover needles among the towering maples. 

There were 823 complaints about homelessness in the city’s more than 485 parks and natural areas — which total 6,414 acres — last year, and near that number as of July. 

Among the city’s responses to those concerns are recently installed gates at roadway entrances into Woodland Park, to deter overnight RV camping.

“It puts us in a position where we set up nature conservation and homeless advocacy as opposing causes. Many people support both,” John Brosnan, executive director of Seattle Audubon, said of camping in parks. “We have to protect our urban forests from these high-impact uses so that they will remain healthy for residents today and in the future. They’re not intended to be places for people to set up a home.”

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7 Thoughts to “Homeless camps increasing in Seattle’s urban forest parks”

  1. Rick

    The homeless are homeless by choice. Having a home, ANY home, means responsibility and these people want NO responsibility. The adage that they “need work” doesn’t fly as the economy is going gangbusters. Help wanted signs EVERYWHERE! They are vagrants and hoboes and need to be treated as such.

  2. Stephen

    I have interacted with homeless people several times offering shelter and assistance. They don’t want it unless it is cash with no strings attached. They don’t want rules or constraints. They are happy living the way they do. These were once called hobos and were rout of town. We should resurrect that practice so we can have our parks and cities back.

  3. Linda Smith

    I can’t tell you how many times in CA I’ve seen perfectly ablebodied young men panhandling in driveways of shopping areas with Help Wanted signs in their windows. Where I live now (certainly NOT in CA any longer) there are Help Wanted signs in virtually every business. If people can’t find jobs, they’re either not looking or they’re too mentally ill to hold a job. If the latter, why are they not being “helped” by these sympathetic do-gooders in any significant way? Significant would include not living and defacating on the streets. It’s the same with all “welfare” programs. They seem to be more aimed toward keeping the needy needy rather than solving problems.
    While I don’t have the definitive solution, I know that doing the same thing over and over and thinking there will magically be a different result is just plain crazy.

  4. anonny mouse

    OK. Yes, there are those homeless by choice, and drawing on the system. Then we have those who are mentally ill. The system does not serve these too well. Then we have those who had good jobs, the jobs were lost (never to come back as the saying goes), and entire families could not pay the house mortgage and so where did they go? This does not have a simple answer. We live in Asheville NC, and the homeless seem to be like younger people between the ages of about 18 to 35. The panhandlers on the street corners with their signs “homeless” actually use the money for drugs. Yes, a study was done by a local politician on those panhandlers. We are getting more every month. In the winter, churches that open their fellowship halls get full pretty fast. The local Mission can get overfilled, and can be at capacity. (both feeding 300 meals a couple times a day).
    Thanks for the rant. Do I have a solution? No. There are those politicians and civil and religious people who should have the answer. But lost jobs and easy handouts from government and people are creating more of the problem.

  5. Sam

    One time I stopped and talked to four or five homeless guys camping on a ditch bank in my town. I discovered some and possibly all of them were gaming the system. They had disability checks direct deposited in their bank accounts, and they were traveling the country, eating at food banks and complaining about the smelly weird people staying at the shelters. That’s why they slept by themselves out in the open. They looked like typical homeless people.

  6. Ann

    “It puts us in a position where we set up nature conservation and homeless advocacy as opposing causes. Many people support both.”

    Such a Seattle attitude, and why we don’t live there anymore. Letting people camp in the park is not homeless advocacy. Helping homeless people to not be homeless anymore is homeless advocacy. The whole time we loved there, there was a loud discussion about where we should let homeless people camp, but almost no discussion about how to help them get homes. I see nothing has changed.

  7. Tommy Molnar

    I don’t think all “homeless” folks are destitute. They live like this as a choice. KInda like the 60’s hippies who threw off the norm and opted for the commune lifestyle. Problem is, I don’t have a solution for these folks. It’s their choice to infringe on OUR lifestyles. Sure, there’s a few out there that have just fallen on hard times, but I truly think the majority (that would be 51%) are doing this by choice. My opinion, and formed by what I’ve witnessed in Reno, just up the road from me.

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