Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Jungle

Lately there's been a lot of media attention to the homeless encampments in the Beacon Hill greenbelt (a.k.a "the Jungle").

Beacon Hill activist Craig Thompson, who has spent countless hours cleaning up trash and invasive plants from the area, wrote about the issue in a short opinion piece in the P-I and a longer one in the Beacon Hill News. Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur also recently visited the Jungle and wrote a short piece about it.

Thompson and Brodeur both lament the state of the Jungle, with its garbage, syringes, feces, jugs of urine, violent assualts, sexual attacks, drug dealing, rats, knives, condoms, mattresses, and occasional dead bodies. And they've both been taken to task by Georgetown blogger The Paper Noose and Apesma's Lament blogger and Real Change publisher Tim Harris, who called Thompson's PI piece a "fantasy genre op-ed":

Reinforced concrete bunkers? Weapons? Heroin cartels and meth manufacturers in the greenbelts? Was a shred of evidence presented that these issues have anything what-so-ever to do with the current controversy. No. This is sensationalism at its worst, and is an unconscionable libel on those whose only documented crime is to attempt survival in a city that has gone to war against its most vulnerable.

I don't know for sure what goes on in the Jungle (I'm too afraid to even get out of my car at Jose Rizal Park), but I've met Craig Thompson at some Beacon Hill events, and he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would make this all up. From what I've read, it sounds like he has spent considerable time in the Jungle talking to people, and he has a good idea of what's going on down there.

I understand why the Paper Noose and Apesma's Lament bloggers think that the homeless should be left alone to use the greenbelt as they like -- because the city government and the people of Seattle have chosen not to give these people any other real options. I don't have any answers to that problem, though I would certainly support initiatives for increasing low-income housing and shelter space in the city. And as a homeowner who has both lived and worked on Beacon Hill, I see Thompson and Brodeur's side of things too.

The edge of my backyard is about 50 feet from the Beacon Hill greenbelt. When I was growing up just outside Portland, we lived about that same distance from a very similar woods. Except I could play in that woods, not at all frightened, whenever I wanted. As I got older, I'd sometimes sneak a beer out there with friends (except we carried our trash back out with us). I guess my naive and ridiculously bourgeois, suburban wish is that the Beacon Hill woods were place where local children could go and build forts and play hide and seek and run around with their dogs. I wish that the woods next to my house were more welcoming to hikers than drug dealers and prostitutes.

I've heard that the Police Department is mean-spirited in their approach to cleaning up greenbelt encampments. One commenter on Thompson's PI article claimed that police officers burn the family photos that they find. While I find that particular claim hard to believe (though maybe it's true), I have no doubt that the police do not make a good-faith effort to return possessions to their owners. And they should.

I used to work near the north part of the greenbelt, and one day I learned that a rapist from the Jungle was on the loose in the area. A couple months later, a homeless woman was found murdered nearby. I can't help but think that crimes like these (along with the zillions of drug deals that impart a distinctly visitor-unfriendly feel to Jose Rizal Park every day) wouldn't be happening so often if the area were frequented by nature lovers and dog owners instead of inhabited by campers.

But until we offer the homeless decent options, I guess we need to understand that allowing the encampments is the most decent thing to do? I don't know.

(Homeless advocates: I know I'm not as compassionate as you are (and thank you for all the work that you do for the less fortunate), but please, please don't crucify me for wanting to be able to enjoy the greenspace behind my backyard without being terrified of the goings-on down there. Thank you.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We talk of the homeless in the jungle
My impression is that it is a place where drugs are readily available so it attracts addicts who prefer to be right at the source, do it and then get more right now.The dealers are like poisonous spiders spinning their webs waiting for their customers to return because they know they will.
Most of the inhabitants of the jungle choose to be there either because they cannot or willnot comply with a homeless shelters rules,on the run from the police or whoever have no ambition to seek a better life, are among "friends"where their lawless behaviour is accepted.
The cops know what goes on there but they also realize that it is somewhat contained at least.
This is a lifestyle that goes along with addiction particularly with crack cocaine.
Its close proximity to downtown and the county jail make it a first stop for those recently released looking to get high.
It is a complicated issue on how to deal with such a place.
These people are not your typical "homeless "