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Daycare kids at risk from homeless camp in Ballard, parents say

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SEATTLE - Parents say a homeless camp just outside a daycare is putting their kids at risk. On Wednesday, they demanded help from a Seattle city councilmember.

Toddlers from the Our Beginning daycare in Fremont come out to Canal Park for outdoor time and fresh air, and parents said staff and volunteers have to sweep the grass every day for needles because children have picked them up out there before.

“These children are the most important resource the city of Seattle has,” said Suzie Burke with the Fremont Chamber of Commerce.

Parents said the problem is that the children aren't safe when they walk out the daycare’s doors, so they asked Councilmember Mike O’Brien for help.

“All we're seeing around here is drug deals going down, violence happening and a lot of waste that's dangerous for our children,” said Alex Coll, whose child attends Our Beginning.

Camping in Fremont Canal Park is illegal, and people at the meeting asked why laws weren't being enforced.

“One night is illegal. One night, so why are they here two months,” shouted one man in a meeting that at times became contentious.

O’Brien said the city is trying but has its limits given the extent of the homeless crisis. O’Brien said that while there are laws saying people are not allowed to sleep in public parks, the people camping have a constitutional right to sleep somewhere and it’s not a solution to keep shuffling them around.

“We don't have 4,000 beds tonight to put everyone who is sleeping outdoors in,” O’Brien said.

Parents said it seemed as though the homeless and their drug addictions were being given greater weight than the needs of the children.

“This space specifically right here around the daycare should be a top priority for the city,” Coll said.

O'Brien said one reason there’s been so much camping in city parks is because of the sweeps done in the Jungle under I-5 a couple of years back. That left hundreds of homeless people with no clear place to go, O’Brien said.

O’Brien had several suggestions for additional steps to take. Community service officers got funded two years ago and could be working on neighborhood issues in ways that police can't. However, the program still needs final approval from Mayor Jenny Durkan, O’Brien said.

Another program called LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) works well with people committing low-level crimes. It was recently introduced in the north precinct, but is not currently operating in the Fremont neighborhood.

Other ideas include expanding the navigation team, and long-term solutions of putting more money into shelters and affordable housing.

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