Community members skeptical that city can keep homeless out of cemeteries

Homeless campers have taken up residence in and around cemeteries. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE -- It happens almost every day, a groundskeeper finds syringes and trash at the Bikur Cholim and Historic Sephardic Jewish cemeteries in North Seattle.

"It's hurting the whole community," said Chaim Tatel, whose mother and father are buried there. "Someone had defecated on her grave. That was very upsetting. It is the cemetery. Some people should have respect for the place."

On Tuesday, Jewish community members turned out with groundskeepers from several cemeteries and staff of the City Council to look at the problem.

The city has promised action. But the community is skeptical.

Elizabeth Rosen's father has been buried there for 20 years. He was a Holocaust survivor.

"This doesn't feel very respectful to have needles, defecation and prostitution going on in this sacred place."

Ari Hoffman, a Bikur Cholim congregant, says it just isn't Jewish cemeteries.

"This isn't a Jewish problem. This is happening at other cemeteries in the area. We've been contacted by other surrounding properties -- by the hospital, the cemeteries, by the houses over there."

KOMO aired a story on the cemetery problem last week.

Since then, the city's homeless navigation team has been to the cemetery twice.

Seattle City Council member Debora Juarez released this statement:

"I have been working with the Police Department and Seattle's homeless navigation team, to find better places for individuals staying outside the cemetery. I am pleased to report that two residents of the encampment have accepted the city's office of shelter space

But community members say the homeless campers are returning to cemeteries.

"They're at a different cemetery right around the corner," Hoffman said. "And somebody else has to deal with it. My heart breaks for these people."

The city says it will continue to work with the people camped in and out of cemeteries.

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