Monday, May 9, 2016

Important Meeting Tonight About Proposed UW Homeless Tent Camp Possibly At Nearby UW Parking Lots, Including Center For Urban Horticulture

The Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) is having a special meeting tonight from 7:10-8pm at the Community Center, regarding the UW's proposal to put a 100 person homeless tent camp, Tent City #3, on the outskirts of campus winter quarter of 2017 for 3 months.  

Two of the proposed sites are near the UW Botanic Gardens’ Center for Urban Horticulture (3501 NE 41st Street_ and the other three are located near the large parking lots along Montlake Boulevard.  
LCC has invited the UW  students who have specifically asked for the homeless camp to present their proposal to the Laurelhurst community and talk about why they think it fits with the UW's mission.

Sally Clark who represents UW Regional Affairs, will also answer questions from the UW's prospective.

At tonight's meeting, neighbors can ask questions about safety, governance, planned involvement with students and faculty, find out how to support or be involved with this concept, and provide comments.

LCC encourages the community to immediately email with comments and questions, as all comments are due to the University soon before the calendar is set in June for the 2017 academic year.

The specific locations that are currently under consideration are parking lots E-1, E-12 and E-18, the latter of which is near the Athletic Complex and Center for Urban Horticulture.

LCC said that the Tent City #3 would be self sufficient with running water, cooking stove and toilets, and no shower facilities. About half of its residents work each day Generally sites are usually located near Metro bus service for their access, though Light Rail does not honor their passes.
At April's LCC Board Meeting, LCC had many questions on the proposed tent city and thus hasn't taken a position yet:
  • What is  the exact proposed location -will it actually be sited on campus, or far away from students on the edge of the campus?
  • What the educational component of the Tent City#3 might be served by the University, and are there any commitments on resources for that mission>
  •  What is the governance/liaison  of the tent city with the University?
  • What are the specific ways and departments  that students and faculty will interact?
  • Are there any added resources that the tent city will need for its own security, or for adjacent neighborhoods or businesses?

LCC told the Blog staff as reported in an April post:

Few details are available at this time, about any specific educational commitments or programs and no site definitely named, but there are promises of connections for student/faculty learning.   The goal is for students and faculty to have an interactive experience with their residents to build empathy.
Governance is not certain about which entity will actually be the administrator of the tent city at this time.  The University asserts that police services would be provided by the University's patrol.   The Tent City is independently run by their residents.     
Their residents are screened for sex offender clearance as well.   
During daytime, residents must be out of the tent doing productive work, or working on site for the encampment's needs

Here are comments to the Laurelhurst Blog and a letter a neighbor sent to the UW regarding the proposed UW homeless camp:
I have grave concerns about how this will impact the safety of our neighborhood.  Anyone living in Laurelhurst with concerns similar to mine (as written in my letter to the UW below) needs to write UW before this becomes an unfortunate reality. 

Letter to UW:
I have grave concerns related to placing a homeless camp on the UW campus for these reasons:

1) Student safety-
Please take a moment to read about the murder that just occurred at the University of Texas.  A beautiful UT student (Haruka Weiser) was raped and strangled walking back from a theater rehearsal to her dorm on April 3rd.  I am an alumni of UT and keep close connections with the school.  The entire UT community is frightened and many parents are concerned about allowing their kids to attend UT after this horrific event.  Even though UT was not directly at fault in this situation (because this homeless person was not on the UT campus by invitation), UT is already being blamed and faces liability and damage to the UT brand reputation.  Can you imagine if an event like this occurred on the UW campus by a homeless person welcomed on the campus as part of a homeless tent experiment?  The backlash  and liability to UW would be deserved.  By definition, homeless people cause security issues that put college students (many of whom are vulnerable due to needing to walk alone at night for rehearsals, studying, etc.)  Why put your most precious resource (UW students) at risk when this homeless population could be placed many other places?
2) Medical Center safety-
I work at UWMC as a physician and clinical associate professor, necessitating trips to the hospital late at night and at odd hours.  The security is very poor already.  Anyone can enter the hospital through the S1 garage door.  No ID is required to enter and no passcode access or camera security is currently in place. I have literally been terrified entering the building and walking alone in the remote/isolated halls to get to my office and hospital unit at non-peak times as required for patient care. There is direct access to this entrance from the Montlake cut trail and people often hang out in that covered area, especially in bad weather.  Having homeless people living in close proximity will only increase this problem and put vulnerable medical students, residents, physicians, nurses and hospital staff at risk as they come and go into the building.  Even worse, unauthorized people are easily able to enter the building and go into the hospital and Health Sciences Building.  There is significant risk of assaults and theft, especially by homeless persons with substance abuse issues.  There was a well publicized event at a Seattle hospital where an armed person was stealing medications from various nursing units, resulting in liability and risk to patients and staff.  The 24 hour open building nature of a medical center makes it a very bad idea to intentionally locate a homeless camp in close proximity.  Why would you put your medical students, residents and hospital staff at increased risk?
3) Neighborhood safety-
I live in Laurelhurst and frequently walk through the parking areas next to the stadium to get to and from work.  The number of people making this same trek has increased with the opening of the UW Link rail station.  It is frequently dark and isolated in places.  The thought of walking to or from work in the midst of a homeless tent camp with strangers approaching to ask for money is terrifying.  I absolutely would not walk this route again and would not allow any of my kids to walk it either.  Putting the homeless tent in this area will cause increased risk to the neighborhood and anyone using the light rail station.  Note that in addition to losing the parking spaces that the tents themselves would displace, there will also be more students, staff, etc. driving and parking on campus (rather than using public transit, walking or biking), resulting in increased traffic and less parking.  Why would UW risk the liability and harm to public relations by hosting a homeless camp so close to a U Link rail station?
Note that even if this proposed homeless shelter is a temporary situation, there will be access and exposure to the UW campus that creates a permanent safety risk.  Once transient persons find comfortable places to camp (such as the S1 parking garage, the Montake cut trail area or the trails near the stadium, it will be next to impossible to re-claim that areaIt will forever be occupied and unsafe for your students, faculty, staff and the neighborhood to use in the future. If you need an example, consider the 'Jungle' and what has transpired there.  The UW campus does not need a 'Jungle' that students, faculty, staff and neighbors have to avoid for perpetuity. 
I agree that the homeless situation in Seattle is a crisis.  However, placing a homeless tent facility in a university or hospital environment puts students, faculty, and medical personal at extraordinary risk for adverse events that constitute an even bigger crisis.  I can't imaging why UW would even consider something that causes this kind of risk and the inevitable associated liability.  The damage this could cause to the UW reputation could be irreparable.  It would be better to find a location that doesn't cause inappropriate risk to vulnerable populations. 
 If UW is truly serious about moving forward with the homeless tent initiative, it will be critical to publicize this to the UW community and neighborhoods in close proximity.  I suspect you will hear many concerns similar to mine.

Here is a letter from the UW President regarding the homeless camp.

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