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Seattle sidewalks overrun by homeless tents as some look to new mayor for action

Tents on Seattle streets.
Tents on Seattle streets.
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SEATTLE (KOMO) — More tents are being pitched in downtown Seattle and other neighborhoods of the city, raising safety concerns from some pedestrians forced to walk in the street in order to navigate around the obstructions.

The return of the tents has occurred one month into the term of new Mayor Bruce Harrell who is now facing complaints from some business owners and concerned residents who are accusing him of not following through on his promise to confront the issue.

A spokesperson for the mayor said he plans to share more details about Harrell’s homeless response plan at the State of the City address scheduled for Feb. 15.

On one recent day, Eric Baker struggled to maneuver his wheelchair around a tent that occupies most of the sidewalk near the King Street bus station.

“Now it’s getting worse again,” he said, adding that new tents have appeared on sidewalks across the across the city which translates into more obstacles for him.

Scott Bader said a massive tent, measuring more than 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide, was erected a few days ago.

“You walk around and you shake your head," he said. "It’s just an unfortunate situation the city needs to get on."

Streets that lead to some of the city's busiest tourist hot spots, like the gateway to the Washington State Convention Center and Pike Place Market, have been overrun by new tents and homeless encampments in recent days.

The tents have not just showed up in Downtown Seattle's core, similar situations are playing out across parts of Capitol Hill, Ballard and the International District, right in front of mom- and-pop shops.

There is also a cluster of tents across the street from Seattle City Hall, right under Mayor Harrell’s office.

Mariana Huben said she feels helpless watching the crisis unfold, saying even though Harrell has been in office for just over a month, he should be doing more.

“I mean he ran on the fact he had a plan for issues like this," she said. "So, it is disheartening to see that it isn’t being implemented. I believe decisive was the word of this campaign."

Harrell has refused to answer questions from KOMO News on camera about the homeless situation since he was sworn into office.

When asked Wednesday if a clear a strategy is in place to deal with the situation, a spokesperson said in a written statement that read in part: “The challenge cannot be solved overnight, but the mayor also strongly believes there must be visible progress. He is committed to creating a public facing dashboard with detailed information and statistics around the city's response to homelessness, which would include a map feature. at the same time, he's working closely with the regional homelessness authority and other local stakeholders.”

City Councilman Andrew Lewis represents downtown and said he is optimistic the problem will be addressed since Harrell is already collaborating with the council on this issue, and the homeless plan will likely involve on going outreach efforts and more housing options.

“Unlike in the previous administration, there was actually a fairly swift response from the Harrell Administration regarding the tents that re-emerged on 3rd Avenue," Lewis said. "They’re no longer there and the folks got put into shelter."

As for immediate solutions, the Seattle Department of Transportation said its crews and other city agencies are consistently going out to clear tents blocking the sidewalks. KOMO News saw that activity Wednesday while it occurred.

“We all want to see progress,” said James Sido, with the Downtown Seattle Association, who is nonetheless asking his business members to remain patient while reminding them the mayor made a promise.

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“They all campaigned on it," Sido said. "And it is on top of their priority list."

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