Seattle, WA – The Seattle Police Department (SPD) said it is puzzled regarding why Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis tried to blame police for not handling the city’s exploding homelessness problem when he specifically voted to block the SPD from handling such issues.
Lewis recently tried to point his finger at the SPD and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan when he was asked about possible long-term solutions to the sprawling tent communities taking over Pioneer Square – an area he represents in his role as a councilman, KCPQ reported.
At least three business owners trying to stay afloat in that area said they have been begging the city to intervene for months, but nothing has been done.
They said crime has been flourishing as a result.
“I think we got to be out of business soon,” Main Street Gryos owner Hamza Albadan told KCPQ.
The other two Pioneer Square-area business owners who spoke to the news outlet said they are strongly considering relocating.
“I guarantee you in a couple of weeks’ time, there will be more tents,” Gallery Frames owner Daniel Carrillo told KCPQ.
JUST IN — 3 men arrested yesterday on suspicion of running a drug ring out of tents in Seattle’s Pioneer Square were just released by a judge.
King County Prosecutors argued to keep them in jail, but tell KOMO the judge disagreed.
— Preston Phillips (@PrestonTVNews) February 25, 2021
When the news outlet asked Lewis about what – if any – long-term solutions the city has to help address the problem, he claimed the failure was on the part of the SPD and Durkan.
“You will have to talk to the police department or the mayor on what the long-term strategy is going to be in that corridor,” the councilmember said.
3000lbs+ trash removed from abandoned encampment tents today. We had permission from campers to do this work. Rats scattered as we collected garbage. 8 volunteers hustled to clear all of this trash in 2 hours. One 24 foot box truck full and taken to dump. #trashercise pic.twitter.com/3IPKSYjcsF
— We Heart Seattle (@weheartseattle) February 26, 2021
But according to SPD Spokesperson Sergeant Randy Huserik, Lewis is much more responsible for the current state of Pioneer Square than he is letting on, KCPQ reported.
“For him to turn around and put that back on the Seattle Police Department is a little puzzling,” Sgt. Huserik said. “It’s a little puzzling based on the fact that he was one of the people who voted to abolish and defund the Navigation Team.”
The City of Seattle used to have a Navigation Team to help the homeless population in the area, but Lewis was among those who voted to defund it in August of last year.
I moved to Seattle five years ago and live downtown. The pandemic has added to economic disparities. This tweet is not a complaint about tents on streets — it is sharing today’s realities with hope that we can find humane solutions. Jail is not a solution. pic.twitter.com/MT2SsrMNbf
— Kelly O’Brien (@warmlykelly) February 21, 2021
The specially-trained team, comprised of SPD personnel and outreach workers, worked to connect the homeless with resources and housing opportunities, according to the city’s website.
“This team has advanced certification in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques that lend themselves to the daunting tasks of reaching those most in need,” the city touted in 2017. “The purpose of the team’s approach is to bring more people inside and create faster resolutions to hazardous situations.”
The Seattle City Council opted to defund the Navigation Team last summer in order to block police from working with homeless populations, KCPQ reported.
They said they planned to have other organizations handle those issues, but the Pioneer Square-area business owners said that hasn’t been happening at all.
In fact, they said they haven’t seen anyone working with the homeless in the encampments that are now blocking the sidewalks outside their shops.
“The city council expressed that they don’t want Seattle police to get involved,” Huserik told KCPQ. “Other city agencies are now incumbent on dealing with those issues.”
Given Lewis’ knowledge of the situation, it is unclear why he tried to blame the SPD for the growing problem.
The Department of Finance and Administrative Services, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and the Department of Human Services did not respond to requests for comment on the issue, KCPQ reported.
Durkan’s office said she is looking into it, according to the news outlet.